Moore County Man Wants Bikes to Help Needy This Christmas
Earl Wright never owned a bicycle as a kid.
Life hasn't always been easy for him, and he knows what it's like to do without. He grew up sharecropping in Raeford and could never afford to buy one.
He says it's those early memories of yearning for a bike that have propelled him to reach out to needy children in his local community.
"Look where I come from, I'm not doing the best but I'm doing all right," he says. "I'm just giving back what God gave me. It's love, that's all it is."
Wright noticed old bikes and toys peeking out of garbage piles after people moved out of the homes he was cleaning. That's when he got the idea to turn other people's trash into treasure for the children in his neighborhood.
He brought new life to old bikes using parts he bought with his own earnings. He diligently polished dirty toys and made them look new again.7
Fifteen years ago, Wright coined the name for his work -- "Project Santa" -- as he drove his truck through the "projects" of Moore County handing out toys and bikes to kids on the streets at Christmas.
Each year, with the help of the local community and his "elves" (his best friends), Project Santa grows. Wright now focuses solely on bikes, and last year he handed out over 200 to needy kids.
Wright is a modest man. He admits he doesn't think he is doing anything out of the ordinary by helping these kids.
"If I can make even one kid out of 10 grin, I've done it," he says. "I'm happy with that."
The children lined up outside Bo's Foods in Southern Pines starting at 6 a.m. last Christmas morning. They stood in the rain, many of them still in their pajamas, just waiting for the bikes to arrive.
"It's all about the glow," Wright says. "I just want to see that glow from the kids."
Despite all his hard work and community support, they didn't have enough bikes for all the kids who showed up. This year, Wright says he expects more kids to come, and he and his "elves" are in desperate need of old bikes, tricycles, scooters and/or bike parts so they can have them ready on time. It is his goal for every child to go home with a bike this Christmas.
"Every child wants a bike," Wright says.
He wants them all to feel the wind on their faces so they can experience that indescribable rush of freedom as they pedal down a newly found path.
"Some of these kids aren't going to have anything under the tree at Christmas; they aren't going to get anything at all for Christmas," Wright says.
He wants to change that and give each child hope.
"They know I'm coming; if God lets them wake up Christmas morning, they know I'll be there," he says.
Wright wants to hand out 500 bikes this Christmas. He and his "elves" have already started working on them as each old bike is added to the pile in his yard.
They work against all the elements: the heat, bad weather and even the darkness, to make sure they are ready by the holiday. He adorns each finished bike with a tiny red stocking; just a little token of something extra to remind the kids each one was made with love.
Sharon Thompson, whom Wright refers to as Ms. Claus, has watched their front yard turn in to what she calls a "bicycle graveyard." It serves as a reminder to others that they are the real deal, she explains.
"Some people just don't believe it," Thompson says.
Last year, they had to make her a little path so she could reach the front door.
Thompson and Wright want people to know there is a lesson in all of this for the children. It's not just about the free bikes.
"We're giving to you, now go back and give to your community," she says.
They ask the children to bring two nonperishable food items so they can help others in need through the Moore County Coalition for Human Care. Last year, Wright delivered a truck full of food to help needy families in the county.
"I hadn't ever experienced anything that beautiful, and all it took was time and patience," Thompson says.
Many of the families they help have to choose between paying their light bill, having Christmas dinner or putting a few presents under the tree.
Thompson shares a heartfelt story about a little girl who handed over a bag of canned goods and said, "Now everybody gets to eat Christmas dinner and go home with a bike."
Wright recalled a story about a man who thanked him for sending each of his three children home with a bike. The man said it had been a rough year, and he wasn't able to give his kids a Christmas.
Wright wants anyone who needs a bike to go home with one. There is no screening process for who gets a bike and who doesn't. It's first come, first served.
They also reserve a space for adults who may have fallen under hard times and need a bike too. Wright encourages others to show up at the Bo's Foods parking lot Christmas morning to see what Project Santa is truly about.
"Being a part of this really showed me the true meaning of Christmas," he says. "My family was privileged to be there last year and see the excitement on the faces of all the children. It also broke our hearts to see the disappointment on the faces of the kids who went home empty-handed.
"Earl needs our help again, and seeing what I saw last year made it personal for me," says Bill Smith, owner of Bill Smith Ford-Lincoln-Mercury-Mazda. "I hope every child will go home with a bike this year."
Bill Smith Ford is the official drop off place for bicycles for Project Santa.
"If you are able to give a new or used bike or would like to make a donation to buy bike parts, please contact Cindy Allen at (910) 692-8765," says Smith.
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