Nichole McCarty wasn’t sure how she was going to pay for Christmas presents for her two young sons. She barely had enough money to put gas in her car.
So the Rohnert Park single mom was relieved when her 7-year-old son, Jeremiah, got word from school that he’d been picked to receive a new bicycle in an annual bike giveaway.
What she didn’t count on was the generosity of local businessman Mark Pippin, who over the past five years has organized the giveaway and handed out 1,000 brand new bikes to needy kids.
When McCarty and her boys arrived at Pippin’s Martin Avenue shop Friday afternoon, he rolled a second bike out for her other son, Ayden, 5, along with new helmets and T-shirts for both kids.
As tears welled in McCarty’s eyes, Pippin put an arm around McCarty’s shoulder, pulled her aside and placed a wad of cash in her pocket to “finish my Christmas shopping,” she said.
“This is amazing,” said the disabled and unemployed woman as she wiped her wet cheeks. “I could never afford anything like this.”
She and her kids weren’t the only ones to get an early Christmas gift.
Pippin, the owner of Innovative Screen Printing and Embroidery in Rohnert Park, gave away 200 new bikes, each with a new helmet, to kids from struggling families in Rohnert Park, Cotati and Sebastopol.
It’s the fifth year in a row he’s made the generous gesture, with assistance from school principals who identify those most in need.
The smiling children flocked to his shop and got to choose their new mounts from rows of bikes lined in formation. Volunteers from local high schools adjusted seats and handlebars and helped kids tighten their helmets.
The Rancho Cotate High School band played music as other volunteers passed out cookies to kids and parents.
For some, it was their first bike ever.
“I want to learn how to ride it right now,” said Logan Schugt, 7, of Sebastopol as he tugged the grip of his new BMX bike.
Pippin, who dropped out of school after the eighth grade, struggled with alcohol abuse and went on to be a successful businessman, said he simply wants to give back to the community for his good fortune.
He also wanted to brighten the days of kids who otherwise won’t get much.
“Just look around! Look at these faces!” Pippin said as smiling boys and girls straddled new bikes. “That’s why we do it.”
More than a few told Pippin it was the best gift ever.
As he and his mother and brother wheeled their bikes to their car, Jeremiah, a first-grader at Thomas Page Academy, stopped to give Pippin his thanks.
“You made me very happy,” he said to the beaming businessman.
You can reach Staff Writer Paul Payne at 707-568-5312 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @ppayne.