GONZALES — A few good men are looking for a few good bikes.
Well, more than a few bikes.
Retired Marines Charles “Chuck” Bell, O’Neil Lonibos and Sam Decoteau hope to provide at least 100 Ascension Parish children with bicycles for Christmas and are seeking monetary donations to help them reach their goal by Dec. 1.
Inspired by the Marine Corps’ Toys for Tots holiday toy donation campaign, the former military men, all three residents of Pelican Point subdivision, have started a nonprofit organization called Bikes for Tykes.
The idea came about last fall as the three friends were looking for ways to give back to the community. They decided on collecting and donating bikes, the quintessential childhood gift many needy families may not be able to afford in today’s economy.
“A bike is probably one of the ultimate toys besides, now an iPad or something like that, which is not feasible,” said Bell, 61, a retired Marine corporal. “I think a bike is still practical.”
Bikes would also help children get outside and exercise, said Decoteau, 69, a retired Marine colonel and former Dutchtown High School coach and educator.
And, lucky for marketing purposes, the word bike “rhymes with tykes,” said a joking Lonibos, 76, a retired Marine sergeant.
“We’re simple-minded guys,” Bell said. “We’re former Marines. We’re trying to keep it simple.”
It was their Marine connection that brought them together.
Decoteau and Bell met while playing golf at Pelican Point several years ago and learned they had both served in the Marines. A little later, Bell met Lonibos while they were both exercising and the Bikes for Tykes trio was on its way to formation.
This is the first year the group put the idea into motion. The three began collecting bikes about six weeks ago.
Thanks to publicity from an article in the men’s neighborhood magazine, the group has already collected enough money to purchase 40 new bikes.
At this rate, the Bikes for Tykes campaign will surely pass its 100-bike goal, Bell said.
“We’ve only scratched the surface,” Bell said.
Bikes for Tykes is collecting donations to purchase 12-inch bikes, some with training wheels, and 20-inch bicycles for children ages 6 to 12.
The group has made Dec. 1 the deadline to collect all the money for this season’s giveaway to allow enough time to purchase, pick up and transport the bikes, Bell said.
Decoteau said the organization is talking with the Salvation Army, Toys for Tots and Volunteer Ascension on how to distribute the bikes, but anyone with a specific charity in mind should contact Bikes for Tykes directly.
Bikes for Tykes is requesting volunteers to help raise funds and assemble and transport the bikes closer to the holidays.
To donate, make checks payable to “Bikes for Tykes” and mail to 6398 Beau Douglas Avenue, Gonzales, LA 70737.
For information, contact Bell at (225) 937-3011, Lonibos at (504) 296-5330 or Decoteau at (225) 253-9698.