'Project Santa' Needs More Bikes
By Rachel Hernandez
Special to The Pilot
Earl Wright can't make it halfway down the grocery aisle without kids running up to him asking, "You going to be there again this year, Mr. Earl?"
He smiles. "Yes, kids. I'm going to be there," Wright says.
But inside, his stomach is churning. Donations for used bicycles have been slow this year, and he is starting to get worried.
"I don't want to disappoint my kids, they need these bicycles," Wright says.
Hundreds of needy children depend on Wright to deliver free bicycles every Christmas morning. Last year, as many children in Moore County were nestled snug in their beds, others were shivering in the cold at 4:30 a.m. as they waited expectantly for "Mr. Earl" to deliver their Christmas wishes.
With the community's help, more than 1,200 bicycles were handed out to kids in need.
But this year, donations have been slow going. So Wright continues to use his own money (of which he doesn't have much to spare) to buy every bike he can find at local yard sales.
He says he can fix up any old bike and make it look new. It's what he does. It is his passion. He calls it "Project Santa," and it's easy to see why.
Kids wave and shout his name as he drives through his familiar streets in West Southern Pines. He smiles back at them and waves. They know he is the guy that delivers bikes to them every Christmas. He even dresses up like Santa Claus.
But the pressure is building, and Wright wants to make good on his promises.
"We can only do what we can do with what we got," he says. "I can only give what I can give."
So far, he has collected only 150 bikes, which is hundreds short of his goal of 500. But Wright says he will keep trying to find old bikes. He says that with "God's help," he will get enough donations so every child who needs a bike will go home with one.
Bill Smith Ford at 1010 Old U.S. 1 North is the official drop-off for the bikes. "Project Santa" will be delivering bikes at 8 a.m. Christmas day in the parking lot of Bo's Foods in Southern Pines.
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