LAKEWOOD RANCH — When most people think of homelessness, their thoughts turn to men dressed in dingy T-shirts, begging for coins or dollars at busy intersections.
But in most cases, the face of homelessness is different — parents who lost their jobs and can no longer find work or a child and his mother who left an abusive situation.
And for families such as these, sometimes something as simple as a bicycle can help them cross over the line of poverty and back into the comforts of a home.
Lakewood Ranch business owner Judi DeWalt hopes East County residents and their friends and families will join in a ride to help the area’s homeless as she hosts the second annual Tour de Ranch event April 24. Five bicycle rides range in length from 20 to 100 miles, and start as early as 7 a.m.
“We just really want people to turnout and have a good time,” said DeWalt, who organized the event with the help of her friend, Vanessa Baugh. “It’s a really beautiful ride.”
Cost is $35 or the donation of a quality 24- or 26-inch fat-tire bike. The fee includes a cue sheet, a continental breakfast, a Tour de Ranch T-shirt (while supplies last), rest stops, road SAG support and an after-ride brunch provided by MacAllisters Grill & Tavern and Ed’s Tavern.
New this year is an After Ride Party at which race participants and event-goers can enjoy live music by Fire Door. A silent auction will include items such as a 2009 Tour de Ranch poster autographed by seven-time Tour de France winner Lance Armstrong and a new bicycle, among others.
“If you don’t ride, you can still come out to welcome and cheer for the riders upon their return,” DeWalt said.
Individuals who wish to contribute more may become a bike donor for a contribution of $100, and a bicycle will be given in their name to a homeless individual.
All proceeds will be used to purchase bicycles and equipment such as helmets, lights and locks for homeless adults and children in Sarasota and Manatee counties and will be distributed through the Suncoast Partnership to End Homelessness.
Richard Martin, executive director of the Suncoast Partnership, said about 80% of the homeless population his organization serves is able to get back on their feet with a little assistance. The gift of a bicycle not only helps recipients get to and from job interviews, jobs and other resources but also gives them hope, he said.
“One thing is the gift of the bicycle and the other part is that someone cared to buy it for them,” Martin said. “Often homeless people feel invisible. That gift has something powerful behind it. That’s the kind of ‘people helping people’ that gets people back on their feet.”
Martha Childress, coordinator for the Open Door Day Resource Center, agreed the gift of a bicycle has a tremendous impact, having distributed several of the bikes purchased from last year’s Tour de Ranch.
“If you just took one day and walked everywhere you needed to go, it would give you a real sense of how important or how grateful you would be to have a bicycle to do that,” Childress said. “I’m not telling you that they will not be able to persevere and succeed without a bicycle, but it will enrich and make their lives easier to an extent that is hard to imagine.”
More than 200 cyclists showed up for last year’s event, which raised enough money to purchase 88 bicycles for the area’s homeless. DeWalt hopes to double the amount raised this year.
For more information or to register online, visit tourderanch.us. On-site registration and packet pick-up will be held from 3-6 p.m. April 23 or starting at 6:30 a.m., the day of the ride. To make a donation, contact DeWalt and 355-0611.
Contact Pam Eubanks at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Tour de Ranch
WHEN: April 24. Rides start at 7 a.m.
WHERE: Lakewood Ranch Main Street
COST: $35 or the donation of a high-quality fat-tire bicycle
BENEFICIARY: Suncoast Partnership to End Homelessness