For most people, having property stolen feels like a violation. Robbie Pruitt admits when his mountain bike was swiped last September, he got mad, but soon enough, his emotions took a turn. After letting go of his anger and frustration, he found himself on a road to compassion instead.
An avid biker, Pruitt’s first priority was to replace his ride, but when he went bike shopping, he found the pickings slim. The scarcity of inventory got him thinking: What if the lack of bikes was pandemic related, and what if the person who’d taken his had done so because they truly needed transportation to get to work?
With that thought in mind, Pruitt, an assistant rector at the Church of the Holy Spirit in Leesburg, Virginia, came up with a plan and posted it to a local Facebook group. Pruitt offered to fix bikes free of charge for anyone who needed it.
He also put out a call for unwanted bikes, which he would repair—again for free—and then donate to folks who could truly use them but didn’t have the budget to buy a bike outright.
The day the post went live, Pruitt wound up with an inventory of 30 used bicycles. The initial influx was followed by more than 500 queries from people who either had bikes to donate or that needed fixing soon after. By the end of 2020, Pruitt had refurbished more than 140 for donation or to be returned to their owners at about a 60 to 40% ratio.
Pruitt doesn’t vet requests, but he does try to gear his donations to families that are truly struggling. The journey he’s taken has also moved beyond simply being a way to satisfy a material need to become an opportunity to show kids in his Loudoun County neighborhood the nuts and bolts of fixing their own bikes.
“All the neighborhood kids are spending a lot more time doing something that’s hands-on,” Pruitt’s next-door neighbor Danny Offei told The Washington Post. “Almost everybody in the neighborhood has a bike now, and he’s helped put those bikes together.”
In addition to practical skills, Pruitt’s lessons teach resilience and teamwork, encourage self-esteem, and foster feelings of community. Indeed, forging friendships is one of the biggest perks of Pruitt’s avocation.
“You’re certainly providing a service, but it’s not the bikes,” said the father of three whose goal is to lead by example. “It’s the relationships in the community. It’s the impact you can make with people.”
Pruitt hopes to integrate his “bike ministry” into his church as a regular activity once the pandemic has been contained. In the meantime, the regular crew of helpers who gather in his backyard after their days of remote schooling is thankful for an outlet that lets them channel their energy in a positive direction and gives them a sense of accomplishment.
“Honestly, it feels great,” eighth-grader Hakim Aburami said in an interview with WDVM News. “Being able to help people in this whole situation, it’s just a really great experience.”