Little Angels gives away bikes to Natchaug kids

By Melanie Savage - Staff Writer
Willimantic - posted Tue., Jul. 5, 2011
A little boy collects his new bike, donated to Natchaug children by Little Angels. Photos by Melanie Savage.
A little boy collects his new bike, donated to Natchaug children by Little Angels. Photos by Melanie Savage.

Edilma Mahew spent most of the day on June 14 in the kitchen, cooking up 15 pork roasts and vast quantities of rice and beans for the children of Natchaug School and their families. While the rest of the school participated in a day-long “Celebration of Me,” Mahew, whose official title is "parent educator," missed most of it.

“Each classroom did something special,” said Natchaug principal Jeff Wihbey. One of the favorite activities was “Natchaug Idol,” a takeoff on the popular television show, “American Idol.”

“I got to see a little bit of it,” said Mahew, “then I had to go back in the kitchen."

The culmination of this special day for Natchaug students was an evening activity that the school dubbed “Celebration of Us.” The children, from grades kindergarten through fourth, were invited back to their school in the evening to enjoy Mahew's dinner, followed by a party featuring music (provided by D.J. Lex from Standout Entertainment), dancing and prizes. Hosts of the party were members of Little Angels, a group that has, over the past eight years, given away thousands of bikes to local children.

Many of the bikes, such as the ones given away at Natchaug, are brand new, purchased by money donated by local businesses and individuals. Others are refurbished. “A lot of people, for whatever reason, have decent bikes they're giving away,” said Ed Rivera, CEO of Little Angels with his wife, Nancy.

Shane Long does a lot of the work on the older bikes. Long, a member of the Mohegan Tribe, performed a native American dance demonstration for the children at Natchaug. “Sometimes the used bikes are even better than the new ones,” said Long. “The ones we buy new, we have to buy inexpensive ones.”

Long refurbishes bikes any way that he can, often utilizing parts from non-salvageable donations. “Not all of the bikes can be fixed,” said Long. After removing all usable parts, Long sells off these bikes for scrap. “We use the money to help pay for our gas,” he said.

Long got involved with Little Angels about five years ago, after moving to Willimantic. “I saw these guys driving around with trucks full of bikes,” he said. As a bike enthusiast himself, Long was intrigued. He started asking around, “and that 's how I got involved,” he said.

Currently, Rivera estimates that the group gives away 1,800 bikes per year. For several years now, the group has sponsored a giveaway at Natchaug. “It's an impoverished area,” said Rivera. The group also sponsored several giveaways this year in the Hartford area.

There is no mistaking the impact the group has on local children. As little Aidan headed over to pick up his new bike at Natchaug, the look on his face said that he was one happy little boy.

In addition to Ed and Nancy Rivera and Long, co-founders of Little Angels include John Soto and Roger Morin. Companies contributing to the Natchaug School giveaway include Charter Oak Federal Credit Union, Bank of America, Connecticut Light and Power, Yankee Gas and Northeast Utilities. Ray Ortiz from Drug Free Communities also contributed. Tolland Bicycle donated helmets.

Little Angels accepts cash donations and bicycles, both new and used. They also accept toys such as frisbees, fishing poles and baseball gloves. Drop off donations any time at 309 Jackson St. in Willimantic, or call Ed Rivera at 860-423-4290.

Rivera wishes to acknowledge the contributions of Ken Dubay, who passed away recently. Dubay was a frequent and generous supporter of Little Angels.

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