By DREW HUTCHINSON
When Norman’s First Baptist Church receives bicycles from Buchanan Bicycles and other local partners, they are hunks of aluminum with few or no parts functioning. But after the church is done with them, the bicycles are able to transport children and underprivileged people to jobs, schools and places around town.
Bikes and Bibles has been a part of the church for 10 years and provides free bicycles and Bibles to children and disadvantaged people in Cleveland County, said Angela Atkins, minister of community ministries and director of the program. Through the program, a group of men from the church picks up discarded bicycles or bicycle parts from places around Norman, including Buchanan Bicycles, to fix. Dewayne Norvill, the lead mechanic of Buchanan Bicycles, said many materials that his shop donates to the church come from students.
“We get a lot of bikes that students have that they don’t want to spend the money to fix,” Norvill said. “They’re like, ‘Oh, it’s going to be $50 to fix that. I don’t want to do it.’ I have a pile in the back, and then once I get, you know, 10 or 15 piled up, then I give those guys a call and they come over with the trailer and load it all up and take it over (to the church).”
The Bikes and Bibles program is composed of Atkins, another monthly volunteer and a group of men, mostly retired, who Atkins calls the “bike team.”
“They make sure all the breaks work and the chains and all the stuff that needs to happen,” Atkins said. “They’re really cool guys.”
One of the longest-standing members of the team is Glen Hubbel, a 72-year-old retired postal worker who started fixing bicycles with the church around Thanksgiving of 2005. Members of the bike team have come and gone, but there are currently four consistent workers and a couple part-time workers, Hubbel said.
Hubbel said he first learned about bicycle mechanics from growing up next to a bicycle shop. He said he has had many occupations over his life, including some in mechanics, so fixing bicycles feels natural to him. For many of the men on the team, fixing bicycles is a significant, rewarding depart from a life spent in office work, Hubbel said.
“I enjoy the opportunity to do something with my hands after, you know, having another kind of job over the years and also the idea that something that we were doing would help out, you know, other people, kind of a way to give back,” Hubbel said. “It’s just a chance to work with your hands and turn out a finished product that somebody gets some good out of.”
The team is hard at work Tuesday and Friday mornings, and one of the most important parts of these days is the group’s fellowship with one another, Hubbel said. Atkins said she has often witnessed the men sitting in chairs around a coffee pot to drink, eat and talk.
“There’s always a coffee break,” Hubbel said. “Sometimes one of the guys’ wives will send some cookies or muffins or something, so it’s pretty laid back.”
Hubbel said the team members get along well because they all share a gratification for the intricate, sometimes dirty work of fixing bicycles.
“People that enjoy that kind of thing that don’t mind a challenge and that kind of personality seem to get along well together,” Hubbel said. “Some of the guys are retired engineers and that kind of thing — some of the people are woefully overqualified.”
Besides Buchanan Bicycles, the team also picks up bicycles from the Norman Police Department, the University of Oklahoma and private donors who contact the church, Atkins said. When people need a bicycle, Atkins said they call the church and she puts them on a waiting list.
“There’s certain restrictions, like we want (the recipients) to be in our county and . . . we prefer that they don’t have other transportation,” Atkins said. “This is a good way for them to get to work because even if you ride the bus, the buses don’t go everywhere.”
Though information about Bikes and Bibles is posted on the church website, most people hear about the program through word of mouth, Atkins said.
“We really don’t have to promote it very much,” Atkins said. “A lot of times on the days that we give out the bicycles, we get a lot of phone calls in because (the recipients) take (the bicycle) back to wherever they live and people talk about it because they got a new bike.”
Atkins coordinates the steps after the bicycles are fixed, so the bike team members rarely meet the people whose lives they’ve touched, Hubbel said. On “bike distribution day,” Atkins said she takes recipients to a room in the church basement where they pick which bicycle they want. A stack of Bibles also waits on a table for those who wish to take one. Above a row of refurbished bicycles — some with worn seats, some with paint faded, but all safe and functioning — hangs a wall of thank you notes from previous recipients.
“There isn’t any one particular (recipient) that stands out to me,” Atkins said. “However, I do remember so many of the recipients are almost giddy to get a bike, realizing the opportunities that it opens up for them.”
Hubbel said serving the community through Bikes and Bibles is a group effort from hardworking, passionate people.
“It’s a group thing,” Hubbel said. “It’s not a case where any one person’s a hero or anything. It’s kind of like having a men’s breakfast or something. You just got a bunch of people that show up and like to work together to accomplish something.”