BUENOS AIRES – In 2013, Ruben went to Guillermo’s small bicycle shop in Buenos Aires to donate a bike that his daughter was no longer using, allowing a poor family to get the two-wheeled vehicle and starting the Rueda Popular (People’s Wheels) project, which has now donated 700 bikes to the poor in Argentina.
Guillermo Gambetta remembers a van arriving outside his shop after he posted a photo of the bike donated by his friend on social media.
A family from a poor town in Buenos Aires province got out, led by a grandmother determined to get a bicycle for her granddaughter.
“I realized that even though we only had one to give away, it made a difference to a family,” Gambetta told EFE, adding that “from there, we never stopped again” with Rueda Popular.
Rueda Popular consists of “rescuing” bicycles that need work because they are no longer being used, putting in “whatever it takes” to restore them, Gambetta said.
The project’s ultimate goal is to get the bicycles to “needy people” in poor neighborhoods, Gambetta said.
Rueda Popular’s priorities are children dreaming of their first bicycle, children who need a bike to get to school and adults in need of a bicycle for daily transportation, Gambetta said.
The majority of the project’s bike giveaways have taken place in the capital and Buenos Aires province, but Rueda Popular is trying to make at least two trips annually into Argentina’s interior to provide bicycles to the needy.
In 2015, for example, Rueda Popular volunteers traveled to a rural school in Corrientes, a province in northeastern Argentina, with 20 bikes for children who were graduating from elementary school and needed transportation to cover the 10 kilometers (6.2 miles) to the nearest high school.
“The kids initially get really shy at the moment when the giveaway is going to take place, as if they are trying to not show their feelings too much,” Gambetta said, adding that later the children say goodbye by running after the volunteers’ pick-up truck.
The project is receiving an increasing number of letters from people in their 30s, 40s and even 50s who are looking for not just a bicycle for transportation, but for their first bike, Gambetta said.