By Crissy Neville
Sometimes a smile is all the reward that’s needed for a job well done. Especially if the job is a labor of love. That’s the philosophy of Ann Mathis, the widow of Fayetteville’s legendary “Bicycle Man,” Moses Mathis, and the current chairperson of the charity that he founded 29 years ago. Since Moses Mathis’s death five years ago, Ann has lovingly, and fervently, carried on the mission of his Bicycle Man Outreach Program.
“It’s hard, and I miss Moses every day,” she said, “but I am trying my best to keep his dream alive. My satisfaction comes from seeing the smiles of the children when they get their bikes. And that is what it is all about – the children.”
Over the past three decades, the program has donated about 38,000 new and refurbished bicycles to needy children in the greater Fayetteville area. Most have been given at the program’s signature event, an annual Christmas giveaway, when pre-approved children get to pick out their own bicycle with an accompanying parent or guardian.
The program grew out of a single, simple request – Moses Mathis was asked by a young neighbor for help in repairing an old bicycle. Moses repaired the bike and decided to do more to help needy children, by giving them bikes, support and more. For years, he was the eponymous embodiment of the program but Ann always had his back, providing quiet help and unwavering support.
The shoestring program was built on hard work, faith and a spirit of goodwill from all involved. Finances have always been tight and the hours have always been long but with community backing, the program has met and often exceeded its giveaway goals year after year and reaped rewards in the form of smiling children.
“God always makes a way,” Ann Mathis said. “That is who I depend on.”
Since losing her husband in 2013, Mathis has relied on her faith even more. She stepped up from being a behind-the-scenes member of the organization and became its leader. Since then, she has kept the Bicycle Man Outreach Program going strong. Likes Moses, her commitment has led to her own special sobriquet.
“Most folks now call me ‘Mrs. Moses’ or ‘the Bicycle Lady,’” she joked cheerfully, “and then I have to remind them I have a name too.”
This spirit of independence rings true in her business life as well. Mathis did not wish to change much about the program when she stepped into her new company role. Indeed, its mission and vision statements, as well as its primary focus, have remained unchanged since the program began. Ann Mathis has, however, added her own touch.
Being a natural planner and organizer, Mathis started one-day bicycle collection drives to help increase donations. The “bike round-ups,’ as she calls them, have been held around Fayetteville but also throughout Triangle-area cities like Raleigh, Durham and Wake Forest.
“This has helped us get a lot more bikes donated in the past few years,” she said.
She has also raised the program’s profile through the use of Facebook and updates to its website – www.thebicycleman.bike. But the program is still known mainly through word of mouth and the positive reputation that helps it to operate throughout Cumberland and six other counties – Hoke, Harnett, Robeson, Scotland, Bladen and Lee.
Mathis also decided to focus the program on the mission that has always been its heartbeat – giving away bicycles. In past years, it had also given away computers that volunteers collected and repaired. And volunteers were involved in youth tutoring, mentoring and job placement. But these efforts had to be put aside in the face of rising costs and the ongoing need for volunteers.
“We have one full-time employee other than myself, and he is our bike repairman.” Mathis explained. “We rely on volunteers to help him with that and nearly everything else year-round.”
This can mean everything from collecting donations and doing repairs to breaking down salvaged bikes for parts and helping at the annual giveaway, slated this year for December 22.
It would be a daunting task for anyone, but Mathis, who is 72, has not shied away from the work, according to local observers and friends.
“Ann Mathis pours her heart and soul into the bicycle program to make it successful,” said Cumberland County Commissioner Glen Adams, a long-time friend and supporter of the Mathis family. “She has brought more organization and new faces into this project. So many community organizations have come to rally around her and her commitment to carrying out Moses’s dream.”
And rally they do. At this time of year, community groups and individuals pull together to help Mathis meet her annual goal of having enough bicycles to give to at least 1,000 children in need.
Each year, social workers with the Cumberland County Schools collect names of children in pre-kindergarten through middle school grades who would benefit from the giveaway and who might not otherwise receive a bike. The social workers then help the parents of qualified children to apply.
Volunteers from entities such as the Cross Creek Cycling Club and local motorcycle outfits have assisted with bike repairs at the charity’s warehouse on Wynfare Drive.
Donations of new and used bikes as well as bike helmets come from individuals as well as businesses and organizations, including Walmart, the Western Harnett Lion’s Club and the Cumberland County Sheriff’s Department. Supporters also help out at bike round-up drives. The next such drive is November 17, from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m., at the McDonalds at 6779 Raeford Road.
Students from schools such as 71st High School and local Boy and Girl Scouts volunteer with bike-cleaning, donation-sorting and duties of that nature.
On the big day, Red Hat ladies bake cookies and vendors shower the child participants with coats, hats, gloves, school supplies and hygiene products, as well as bike accessories and helmets. Fayetteville businesses donate food, water and goodies for all.
Elected officials are usually on hand for the ceremonial giveaway of the first bike and to celebrate with the children and their families.
Ann Mathis will be celebrating too as she reaches the end of another year of giving, receiving and goal-reaching.
“It looks like we might reach 1200 or 1300 bikes to give away this year,” she said proudly.
But not quite yet. More bikes must be repaired. More work remains to be done. The charity needs and appreciates donations of bikes and money, always useful in buying supplies and keeping things running. Volunteers are prized, particularly if they have some knowledge of how to repair bikes and can give time at times other than Christmas. Find out how you can help at the organization’s website or visit its warehouse on a Monday, Wednesday or Friday between 9 a.m. and 1 p.m., February through Christmas.
Just ask for the Bicycle Lady when you get there. And don’t forget to smile.