BY JEFF GOODMAN, Californian staff writer firstname.lastname@example.org
Dozens of local foster children will receive brand new bicycles this holiday season thanks to financial support from the cast and crew of a popular CBS television series and donated labor from two area bike shops.
Suzanne Saltz, a Bakersfield resident and an assistant director on "NCIS: Los Angeles," coordinated the gift campaign to benefit CASA of Kern County, a nonprofit group that trains volunteers to monitor child protection proceedings.
"This is something that came in out of the blue," CASA executive director Colleen McGauley said. "We weren't seeking bikes. But when someone says, 'Could your kids use bikes?' the answer is 'Yes, absolutely!' It's a gift from heaven."
Saltz and her co-workers recently purchased unassembled Huffy bicycles, which were transported to Bakersfield and put together this week at Snider's Cyclery and Finish Line.
The assembled bikes will be stored at San Joaquin Community Hospital until they are distributed to approximately 60 foster children this weekend.
"You have children who might never get a gift of a bike simply because of the cost," Saltz said.
The gift drive, which will distribute wheels to 3-year-olds and teenagers alike, has also pooled funds for helmets and bike locks for the recipients.
CASA watches over about 300 of the roughly 2,500 foster children in Kern County. Several of them had specifically requested bicycles for Christmas -- wishes that aren't easy for foster parents to fulfill.
"Most of these kids are in stable foster homes, but there are few resources available for a gift this large," said McGauley, who added that CASA volunteers receive $25 per year for incidental purchases.
"Foster parents don't get a gift allotment for Christmas. None of them get enough money to make the living of a child robust. They do it for love. The ability to get a child a bicycle -- that doesn't come along very often."
Before Thanksgiving, as the actors and crew of "NCIS: Los Angeles" made their donations, they personalized the gifts by selecting children from a CASA-compiled list of their ages and genders. The bicycles have a wide variety of sizes and colors, Saltz said.
When the local bike shops heard from CASA about the initiative, they were happy to offer their services for free.
"CASA is a great cause," Finish Line owner Alan Bradley said, "so we wanted to help out."
Added Snider's assistant manager Miguel Berger: "It's the giving season. We wanted to do our part."
Other local entities have joined the effort as well. The Target Distribution Center in Shafter gave $400 to help pay for the locks and helmets, McGauley said. The children will also receive safety pamphlets compiled by the Bakersfield Police Department.
"They've got the whole thing covered," McGauley said.
Saltz said a bicycle isn't just a toy, especially for the older kids. For example, she said, it could help a teenager get to school or work. It can encourage exercise in a fun way.
"A bike is everything," she said.