Donovan Clay, 16, was more than surprised Thursday when he walked out of the shower to see a new bike by the Christmas tree in his apartment.
“We’ve helped you get to school,” said Steve Shannon of Waste Connections. Employees bought and built bikes for about 200 kids around Austin, including Donovan.
“Thank you,” Donovan said. “It’s nice.”
Donovan, the son of Bertha Foster, 43, who is partially paralyzed after a series of strokes, had been borrowing a friend’s bike rather than walk the 10 blocks to get to high school. Now he has his own bike.
He tested the bike as he did a loop in the parking lot of his apartment complex. He made the bike do tricks under his guidance.
Later that day, Syrian refugees, the Ashour children, watched from the landing of their second-floor apartment as their bikes arrived. They came running out to see what Shannon had in the trailer attached to his truck.
Within minutes of Shannon’s arrival, the children were putting on helmets and testing out their bikes. Even 1-year-old Halil had a tricycle. “For Halil?” mother Ahlam Fouad Al Battal asked. “No?” She said in disbelief. Yes, for Halil. Yes, for all her kids.
Brothers Hadi, 13, and Fadi, 11, did loops in the parking lot with big smiles on their faces. Eight-year-old Hala walked the bike for her sister Jana, 3, to her, and then got on her own bike. She loved the streamers coming out of her bike handles. Shannon explained to the older boys how the gears and brakes worked.
Donovan and his mom and the Ashours are two of the families featured in this year’s Statesman Season for Caring program. Each year the program tells the story of 12 featured families and helps hundreds of others throughout the year through local nonprofit organizations like Meals on Wheels Central Texas, which nominated Donovan and his mom to Season for Caring, and Interfaith Action of Central Texas, which nominated the Ashours.
Since 1999, Season for Caring has donated more than $11.2 million to community organizations, which use the money to help families with basic needs such as rent, utilities, medical care, groceries, transportation and clothing.
This year, Season for Caring has raised more than $568,700 in monetary donations and an additional $176,595 in in-kind donations. Donation collections will continue through Jan. 31.
This is the second year Waste Connections has donated bikes to a Season for Caring family. The employees and vendors at the waste collection, recycling and disposal company donate and build bicycles for local kids through the Waste Connections Christmas Promise.
Waste Connections’ corporate headquarters in The Woodlands started the tradition about 16 years ago. By December more than $12,000 had been raised in Austin for bikes, said district manager John Harris. Last year, more than 6,300 bikes and helmets were donated companywide, and 266 went to kids in this area. The national goal is to top 8,000 in 2017. In Central Texas, bikes will go out to 20 organizations in several cities.
“Just about every major district in Waste Connections participates in this holiday tradition that we have,” Harris said.
“They are locally directed and run. We want to make sure we have that indelible thumbprint on the community.”
Austin employees began arriving at a large garage area about 9:30 a.m. Dec. 9. The goal was simple: Put the bikes together, and get them to the quality-control mechanics for one final check. The bikes were scheduled to be loaded on trailers and delivered to kids in Austin, Pflugerville, Seguin, Uhland, Taylor, Rockdale, Jonestown and Dripping Springs.
Cheryl Maltrud, the office manager of the Pflugerville location, brought her two teenage sons to help with the build.
“They volunteer during the school year, but I wanted them to experience this as well,” she said. “It’s important they see the value of helping others.”
In a spot nearby, Patrick Flanagin — the Austin office’s controller, and his wife, Kayla, a second-grade teacher at Sycamore Springs Elementary in Dripping Springs — were putting together the first of a dozen or so 12-inch bikes they would build. The Flanagins moved here this year from the Woodlands.
“This is my fourth year,” Patrick Flanagin said. “Every year at corporate, it got bigger. When I was at the Woodlands, we would have four different nights and we do anywhere from 800 to 1,000 bikes. It’s great to be a part of this every year.”
The Foster family needs help with a bigger, accessible living space, driver’s education and a gently used car for Donovan, and gift cards to H-E-B, Walmart and Academy.
To find out more about the Foster family or to give an item on their wish list, contact Meal on Wheels Central Texas at 512-476-6325, Ext. 159 or mealsonwheelscentraltexas.org.
The Ashour family has very little left on their wish list: a vacuum, driver’s education for Al Battal, a printer and gas cards.
To find out more about the Ashour family or to give an item on their wish list, contact Interfaith Action of Central Texas, 512-386-9145, Ext. 7, interfaithtexas.org.
SEASON FOR CARING
• To make a monetary donation to Season for Caring, go online to statesman.com/seasonforcaring.
• Find more stories, videos and photos of all the families at statesman.com/seasonforcaring.
• To learn more about donating an item or a service, call 512-445-3590 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.