Over five months and a couple hundred bikes later, Bike Lafayette President Andre Angelle continues to power forward with his local “bike kitchen,” offering transportation to those in need while diverting bikes from landfills. And now he’s looking to kick the project into the next gear.
The idea to start a bike kitchen developed during No Waste Lafayette’s Fix It Cafés, Angelle said. A bike kitchen is a place for people to repair bikes, learn about safe cycling and build community.
Angelle benefited from a similar enterprise after he was the victim of a home invasion and separate violent attack while living in Oakland, California.
Isolated and in need of transportation, he was referred to The Crucible, a nonprofit that invites community members to work fixing bikes to earn one for themselves. He began volunteering there and picked up the trade, eventually getting a job as a bike mechanic in the Berkeley-Oakland area.
Angelle said he knew the personal benefits a bike kitchen could provide to the community and the environmental good it could do by repurposing bikes due for the waste pile.
“It’s about using my skill set to reduce waste and to improve people’s transportation options,” he said. “I realized very quickly that most of the people who ride on them are not riding by choice, they’re riding out of necessity. I wanted to do something to help them.”
No Waste Lafayette’s director Catherine Comeaux, a longtime friend, recommended Angelle reach out to Bike Lafayette, a nonprofit that promotes cycling safety and accessibility in Lafayette.
When he did, Angelle said he learned the organization was at a crossroads and the board was planning to disband. After hearing his idea, they recommended he take over.
Things kicked into high gear in March, when Angelle requested Lafayette Consolidated Government accept bikes during their spring debris drop and clean sweep. Angelle agreed to accept any bikes donated and, more than four trailer loads later, he had roughly 117 bikes lining his driveway and yard, he said.
After that, Pac-Van storage company donated a 40-foot storage container for Angelle to store the bikes. Comeaux’s parents, Sarah and Harold Schoeffler, donated a piece of property on Spring Street for him to house everything after a previous location fell through.
Then, while fundraising for repair kits, the tool company Pedro’s agreed to partner with the project and provide the kitchen with discounted tools.
“In five months, we’ve gone from nothing to something,” Angelle said. “Every time I’ve reached out to the community, I’ve been blown away by the support I receive.”
Sarah Schoeffler said she was excited to play a small role in helping Angelle get the project off the ground. A 30-year volunteer with the Salvation Army and current board member, Schoeffler said she knows the importance of providing people opportunity.
“I have always worked with trying to help people who need to get ahead,” she said. “This kitchen can provide people with transportation when they don’t have other options. It can also give people who need to become viable in life skills to do something they’re proud of.”
Angelle said there’s currently between 150 to 200 bicycles stored in the container and about 20 more in a trailer at his home, though the numbers fluctuate as bikes are donated. He said he spends roughly two to three hours a day working on the bike kitchen and Bike Lafayette, repairing and delivering bikes, and networking.
The bike kitchen has so far donated bikes through the Salvation Army’s men’s shelter and other outreach programs throughout Lafayette.
Angelle also donated 40 bikes to the city of Breaux Bridge for an at-risk youth summer program the city hosted and repaired nearly a dozen more with an engineering class at David Thibodaux STEM Magnet Academy. Those bikes were donated to students at J.W. Faulk Elementary, he said.
Now that the initial repair and donation process is off the ground, Angelle said he wants to continue growing the program. His next aim is to develop a youth empowerment program to train disadvantaged and at-risk youth in bicycle mechanics.
“The idea is to teach kids they have the power to make an impact on their community,” Angelle said. “They can also take the knowledge they gain and turn it into a job or a life skill, kind of like I did. I bought a house with the money I made and the things I learned at the bike kitchen in Oakland, so I know it works.”
The goal is to show the youth how to strip bikes and repair or recycle them. The idea would be to host a multiweek course and have the youth learn while working on bicycles through the kitchen. When they graduate from the program, they’ll receive a bicycle repair tool kit, he said.
Angelle is currently preparing to pitch the bike kitchen at the 24 Hour Citizen Project, a local pitch competition that connects community-improvement concepts with financial backers. He’s also exploring other grant opportunities.