UTICA, N.Y. (WKTV) - Utica Safe School Healthy Students holds numerous programs throughout the year which help students in the Utica City School District, but none may be more important that the organization's annual bike giveaway.
The 9th annual Build-A-Bike Giveaway at the Utica Memorial Auditorium on Saturday was different from the previous eight because the date was moved to late May instead of late April due to the potential for the brand new Utica Comets franchise to be hosting playoff games. That extra month allowed for the collection of some extra bikes and also provided much warmer conditions for the hundreds of kids and their parents who waited in line to get inside.
Utica Safe Schools Program Facilitator Adam O'Hearn was outside making sure the line ran smoothly, "Previous years it's been tough. Last year it was raining the whole time, it was about 35, almost 40 degrees."
Venon Seward, his wife and their two young children were in line early and at the front of the long line that at times stretched around the block surround The Aud, "Been out here since 3:00 this morning."
Once inside, Seward's kids and others immediately came into the sight of a sea of more than 900 bikes on the floor of the grand arena.
Utica Safe School Healthy Students Director of Programs Jeremy Butler says this is a record year for the number of bikes collected. He says a bike is the perfect thing to give a child for the summer, "Oh you couldn't ask for anything better, they're not sitting at home, they're not behind the TV, they're not playing video games, they're out getting fit they're getting healthy, they're socializing with their friends and their peers, and it gives them a sense of freedom."
Build-A-Bike Coordinator Dave Buck says the long hours collecting bikes for the past year and getting them all worked on for this giveaway has been a lot of work for an awful lot of volunteers, but this day makes it all worth it, "Just seeing the smiles when they're coming here and leaving here, and seeing that kid later when I'm leaving here tonight, and seeing that kid on the street with his helmet on and his bike and a smile, that's priceless."