Wheel good people: Riders identify solutions from astride bicycle seats, and really deliver
Efforts to address challenges such as Covid-19 and racial division and to better the community are zooming along on two wheels, undeterred by the death of bicyclist Darryl Willis in Harvard Square on Aug. 18. One effort, the Cambridge Bike Delivery Program, was set up at the onset of the pandemic to address the needs of at-risk elders and others with limited means; another, the Cambridge Bike Give Back Program, was launched in response to George Floyd’s murder in Minneapolis on Memorial Day and subsequent Black Lives Matter activities.
The Cambridge Bike Delivery concept grew organically among members of the Cambridge Bike Safety Group – an amalgam of local cyclists without any real hierarchy, assembled with the mission of advocating for safe streets in Cambridge – to make home deliveries of meds and groceries to seniors from Skenderian Apothecary, Inman Pharmacy, Pemberton Farms Marketplace and other stores without delivery services. The logistics “proved to be tougher than anticipated,” organizer Rebecca Neuman said. “We had over 300 cyclists, but it was hard to line people up on dates and times.” Outreach to the elderly became something of a challenge as well, and the effort waned. But Neuman struck up conversations with staff at the Agassiz Baldwin Community Center and Margaret Fuller House, in The Port neighborhood. The Margaret Fuller House runs its own food pantry program, while the Agassiz Baldwin Community Center has just become an outpost for the Cambridge Community Center food pantry. Both programs needed volunteers to deliver food to the vulnerable, so Neuman set up a signup portal to coordinate riders with deliveries on the days the food pantries got shipments.
For each provider there are a dozen to several dozen deliveries on any given pantry day, coming three to four times a week. Neuman, who puts in a few hours each week to keep it all flowing, tries to keep the matches surgical and lean. The loads for the Margaret Fuller House are about 10 to 20 pounds of vegetables per delivery, bulky and heavy loads for which most riders employ a tagalong trailer or large food delivery bag, coordinator and director of finance and operations Cory Haynes said. The hauls from Cambridge Community Services range from frozen foods to baby diapers; one delivery rider recalled having to deliver an ice cream cake during high, humid 80-degree weather.
For the Agassiz Baldwin Community Center and Margaret Fuller House, the venture has been a natural and helpful fit that should carry on post-coronavirus, and Neuman is looking for other ways to use the volunteer army of riders – possibly reenabling curbside composting, which was suspended by the city during the coronavirus lockdown. (Though the mention of odor and stench trailing behind a hard-pedaling cyclist had Neuman and Haynes scrunching up their noses over a Zoom call.)
Bike Give Back
The Cambridge Bike Give Back program was started just over a month ago by Lonnell Wells and a collection of friends he calls his “community.” Wells, distraught after Floyd’s murder, looked inward and talked deeply with them about what could be done to fix the country. The giveback program is “Plan B,” Wells said – “something to do for the kid who doesn’t have the bike to ride with their friends, the ex-con who just got a job who doesn’t have the money to ride the T, and a way for people to exercise when you can’t go to the gym.” The process is simple: Wells has taken to social media to ask for “broken old bikes” that he and his team piece together and give to those in need; jubilant photos from pickups and drop-offs are easy to find on social media. At the time of our sit-down, Wells estimated the program had collected more than 30 broken bikes and given back 17.
Wells grew up in The Port – “Area 4,” as he still fondly calls it – and graduated from Cambridge Rindge and Latin School, but now lives in Chelsea, has a 10-year-old son and works as a chef at Boston University. He refers to his post-work scavenging expeditions to gather bike carcasses as “demon time.” For the bike assemblies, Wells hosts parties, for which he does what he does: cooks. Partial to Southern food, Wells likes to make collard greens and sticky chicken, which is thrown back in the skillet with hot sauce just before serving.
Wells did not go into details about Plan A. “Not enough time,” he said at our meeting. But he expressed gratitude to the bike community at large, which he described as supportive of his project. Bike groups are also active in Black Lives Matter organizing: There have been three 800-person Ride for Black Lives through Greater Boston, organized in part by Crimson Bikes, Boston Bike Party, Bikes Not Bombs and Spoke House, at a time organizers would not risk more casual rides. U.S. Rep. Ayanna Pressley kicked off the ride this past Sunday; there are also weekly MIT-to-Arlington Black Lives Matter rides on Sundays.
The project and scope of the Give Back venture is sure to grow. On Sunday, the program hosts a barbecue at Greene-Rose Heritage Park on Harvard Street near the Fletcher Maynard School. The flyer lists family-friendly scavenger hunts, voter registration and free food.