Can you imagine hosting a volunteer event that is so much fun, that:
You have to schedule it over a two-week period,
It’s so large you need to book a stadium,
People will wait in line just to participate, and
Each person will pay $20 for the privilege of volunteering?
By now, you’ve probably figured out that the event we’re talking about is the annual Elves and More Bike Build, hosted by a nonprofit that took Houston by storm a mere 9 years ago.
It all started when David Moore began donating Christmas gifts to children in 2000 through the “adopt-a-family” method. It wasn’t long before he realized that this method segregated the children who received gifts from their friends who didn’t. Based on “wish lists” supplied by the families, it required shopping for specific items which was both time-consuming and expensive. As the donor, David found the outcome to be unsatisfactory because he was not always sure he bought the right things, and he saw that there were still many children left wishing for Christmas gifts.
The next year David adopted even more families, 23 in all, but the incomplete feeling remained when he was through. So he went back to the stores, bought loads of generic, quality gifts, returned to the same area, and handed them out to an additional 300 children! By 2002, David began to see the impact that his gifts were making on the neighborhoods he visited: since all of the children were now receiving gifts, no child felt neglected or left out, and there was no need for acting out against the others due to anger or disappointment. Everyone was able to enjoy their gifts without jealousy or fear of reprisal. This became known as the “neighborhood approach”, and it was the first step in developing the streamlined and efficient Elves and More volunteer system that exists today.
Step 2 was when David noticed that the most popular gift item was a bicycle. This was because it represented not only something to play with, but also a means of transportation. Bikes enable the children to join after-school programs, attend tutoring classes, go to the library, and participate in church and community center activities. At each of these venues, they come into contact with adult mentors who can guide them in positive ways, encouraging them to stay in school and out of trouble. The idea to focus on just giving bikes was born, and in 2003 David and his band of friends and volunteers gave away 8,000 bikes as Christmas presents to needy, Houston-area children. Elves and More became an official 501(c)(3) charity in 2004.
The annual Bike Build became so popular that in 2008, the risky decision was made to ask volunteers for a $20 “donation” ($50 for families) for 2 reasons:
(1) to control the overwhelming number of adults and children, employers and employees, congregations from churches, synagogues and mosques, Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts, student and teacher volunteers to a manageable number, and
(2) to help bridge the gap between funds available and funds needed to pay for the bicycles. This year the plan is to build and donate 10,000 bikes to underprivileged children, including Elves and More’s 125,000th donated bike!
What has made the Bike Build such a success is its incredible organization: volunteers are guided through the steps in two-hour increments with the precision of a Swiss watch. There are separate stations for training, assembling, and checking the bikes before they are lined up for loading. Cheerful Elves give you instructions, offer help when you forget them, and squire you between stations so you don’t get lost. Long tables allow you to work beside old friends and new ones, in order to share the experience with one another. And nothing is more impressive than seeing the rows upon rows of bikes as they grow, realizing that each one will impact the life of an individual child.
If your organization depends upon volunteers for any of its events or programs, you should find a way to sign up as a Bike Build volunteer. Not only will you learn ways to improve your own volunteer experience, but you will enjoy doing it. After all, what’s more fun than two wheels?