Featured Volunteer: Frank Smith
Frank Smith is one of our faithful, weekly volunteers who helped keep us rolling through the pandemic. Frank came to us shortly after we moved into our Rockville warehouse and he's been spending nearly every week with us since! He is part of the crew who strips usable parts from our scrap bike pile which just seems to keep growing. Not to make it a competition, but Frank holds the record for the number of bikes stripped.
Moving into 2021 we will continue to lean on him, as well as the entire volunteer crew, to help shoulder the bulk of our volunteer work. Since closing our doors last March and then slowly reopening in June to volunteers, Bikes for the World has remained committed to operating in the most cautious and safest way possible. This includes extremely limiting the number of volunteers in our warehouse. Outside of loadings, we ensure no more than two volunteers are working in the warehouse at the same time, allowing for plenty of space and the avoidance of sharing tools.
To illustrate how vital Frank is we need to explain how we track our volunteer hours. In 2019, a normal work year, we logged 9,188 volunteer hours both in the warehouse and on location (group collections). This included 2,000 'volunteers'. Volunteers is defined as a session, meaning one volunteer, like Frank, may have been counted more than once.
Bikes for the World is proud of the work we do in the community providing volunteer experiences for groups, like schools, corporations, or service groups. We also cater to the 'busy' volunteer who may not be able to commit to a regular shift. Therefore, the bulk of our warehouse volunteers are one-time-onlies. Because we cancelled nearly all of our group activities last year (and possibly this) and were unable to offer open-door volunteer sessions we've been operating more than a-man-down. This greatly impacts the number of bikes we are able to process and donate to our partners around the world.
No matter how many bikes we are able to collect from recycling centers or bikes shops, etc, without the important work of our volunteers, that number would be capped at 1,000. Once we bring an estimated 1,000 bikes into the warehouse we run out of space. And that's exactly what happened last May once our pick ups resumed in April and we hadn't yet brought back any of our volunteers.
Frank was one of the first ones back. It was hot, we were masked, there wasn't the same comradery we had all become accustomed to, but there was work to do. And our core volunteer crew was ready to spring into action. We had the bikes ready for the next shipment but we needed parts. Frank grabbed a wrench and got to work. For every shipment we typically pack another 50 cases of spare parts for the mechanics on the other end. These help repair the bikes we are donating as well as the bikes already in use on the ground. The spare parts are all recovered by our volunteer mechanics who put in 3-6 hours weekly at the warehouse.
Back to the numbers. Compared to the nearly 10,000 hours completed in 2019, we logged only 2,146 hours in 2020. While we also only shipped half the number of bikes donated in 2019, we still managed to donate over 6,000 bikes during a pandemic and did it with a fifth of the manpower. Since March we logged less than 300 volunteer sessions (remember: 2,000 in 2019) and those were completed by a handful of volunteers, Frank leading the pack.