WashCo Bikes pedals on after burglary, adapts to pandemic
When Joe Kurmaskie received a call from a police officer late at night on Sept. 14, his first thought was, "Which adult kid are you calling about?" said Kurmaskie, the father of four sons.
Thankfully, his kids weren't in trouble.
When the officer said he was from the Hillsboro Police Department, Kurmaskie immediately knew someone had broken into WashCo Bikes Community Bike Center, the nonprofit bike shop based in Hillsboro, which Kurmaskie runs.
"I said tell me if there are any bikes still in the shop," Kurmaskie said, adding that the glass door at the entrance had been smashed.
In fact, the only thing that was stolen was the most expensive item in the shop — a brand-new, $2,000 electric bicycle that had been brought in the day before.
To Kurmaskie's amazement, after posting about the burglary on social media, community members donated enough to cover costs related to the incident within 24 hours. Nike even stepped in to donate two electric bikes, Kurmaskie said.
"It was amazing to me," Kurmaskie said.
He says the community response after the burglary is yet another example of how people have stepped up to keep the organization, which relies on donations, afloat during the coronavirus pandemic. But he says WashCo Bikes is still in need of support, and the organization is still adapting its programs for the pandemic.
"We still have a need because we're getting the bikes out to kids and families and people that are on their third shifts, and even the people on the first and second shifts, who just aren't riding (TriMet)," Kurmaskie said.
The nonprofit promotes bicycling through education, advocacy and community events across Washington County. It organizes bike safety programs such as bike rodeos and summer camps for youth. It also donates bikes to children and adults in need through its Adopt-a-Bike program. Donated bikes and bike parts are refurbished, and bikes that aren't used for its core programs are sold at discounted rates at the shop, located at 137 N.E. Third St.
Kurmaskie said a rapid increase in demand for bikes, which occurred across the country in the early months of the pandemic, also affected WashCo Bikes, as people shifted away from public transit. The shortage of bikes and bike parts he usually experiences during peak summer bike riding season occurred in April and May, Kurmaskie said, and it has continued into late September.
That's why Kurmaskie is still asking people to consider donating any bikes, bike parts or biking gear they won't use. He said everything is needed except bike helmets — OHSU Doernbecher Children's Hospital, a regular WashCo Bikes partner for bike safety events, already donated more than 700 helmets.
Like most nonprofits, WashCo Bikes has adapted its programs for social distancing, keeping the shop full of activity.
Kurmaskie has rearranged the shop to allow volunteers who repair bikes to be at a distance. Interns who in previous years would have only worked at the shop during the summer have been able to keeping working into the fall because many of them are college students who haven't returned to their campuses.
WashCo Bikes has also adapted its Adopt-a-Bike program.
"It was very COVID-non-friendly," Kurmaskie said. "We'd pack an auditorium full of kids. All of my staff and volunteers would be adjusting and repairing bikes and fitting helmets."
WashCo Bikes has produced videos for people to learn the same info they would hear at an Adopt-a-Bike school event. Kurmaskie also coordinates with teachers and counselors who think a student is in need of a bike, and they find times to deliver the equipment.
"Instead of folding our arms and saying, 'Well, we can't do that anymore,' we've adapted," Kurmaskie said, adding that WashCo Bikes is still providing comparable numbers of bikes through the program to what it did before the pandemic.
He's also planning to host some smaller, socially-distanced bike rodeos this fall.
Kurmaskie said the pandemic has forced people inside more, which has only increased people's need to get out of the house and stay active, especially when kids don't have their normal physical education classes.
"If I can help augment physical activity through biking right now, we're going to find a way to do it," Kurmaskie said.
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