The calendar doesn’t officially say it’s summer yet, but the season appeared to be in full swing on a sun-filled Sunday afternoon, as 200 kids got free bikes, adults got health screenings and teens took to the basketball courts at Tonsler Park.
The event, the kickoff of Tonsler League basketball season, was a bit different this year, said organizer Dr. Wes Bellamy, in that the group wanted to make sure it’s giving broadly to those in need — and that includes not only kids who can benefit from a bike, but also people who needed or wanted mental health screening, a COVID-19 vaccine or even advice with housing or financial issues. Booths were set up for all those services.
“We wanted to provide a way to give back to everybody,” said Bellamy. “Every kid deserves a bike for the summer.” Bikes, or money for them, were donated by Wal-Mart, Charlottesville Parks and Recreation and musician Jeezy.
There was little doubt that the bikes were the hit of the event, even as older kids took to the courts, and younger ones played in the water fountains at the park and some swang and played on the playground.
A U-Haul pulled up to the front of the building and kids, parents and grandparents eagerly waited as Bellamy and team handed out bicycles.
Patricia Jones, 67, of Charlottesville watched as her grandson Antwan Tinsley got a brand-new bike. He smiled broadly as he watched the activity all around him.
When asked what he planned to do with his bike, Antwan said, “I guess I’ll ride it.”
Jones praised the organizers, saying she thinks “it’s great” that Bellamy and others brought the community together for the event.
Kids beamed as they got their bikes, many of which had training wheels for the youngest. Girls rode pink bikes with silver streamers coming out of the rubberized covers on the handlebar, and boys tried out new black and red bikes. Some children rode their bikes up a bank of grass on a nearby hill, while others weaved their bikes between adults who watched them happily.
Zenat Hoshimi, 5, could only ride a few feet at a time, and she proudly showed off her skills to her mother, Jamila Hoshimi.
A 10-year-old boy saw all the fun the other kids were having and tried to see if he could get a bike for his 2-year-old sister. His mother told him that she didn’t think the toddler could manage a bike, even with training wheels.
He didn’t want to give up, however, and tried to see if her could put together a small bike that had been broken during the unloading.
Sunday’s was the third bicycle giveaway that the Tonsler League has sponsored, and Bellamy said he hopes to do it again next year.
“I’m very grateful to the community that people trust me to do this, and I’m grateful to our donors,” he said.