A decade-long prison initiative that allows inmates to take old or broken bikes and fix them up for needy kids before Christmas needs a little help.

Starting in 2007, Wheels of Love, in partnership with Keep McDowell Beautiful, is a program at Marion Correctional Institute that refurbishes old bicycles through the volunteer efforts inmates and donates them to Project Christmas and other organizations throughout McDowell County.

According to Marion Correctional Unit Manager April Shoup, the program receives the bikes through community donations or by finding them in landfills throughout the county. Then, under a volunteer basis, prison inmates – which vary from 10 to 20 participants – spend the better part of a few hours to one day fixing and refurbishing each bike.

“Refurbishing usually depends on what kind of shape the bikes are in when we get them,” said Shoup. “Sometimes it can just be a paint job, and other times whole parts have to be fixed like brakes, locks and chains.”

On average, Wheels of Love donates at least 100 bikes to Project Christmas and other organizations like Marion Moose Family Center and Old Fort Ruritan Club. However, donations have been lower this year, Shoup says, with numbers estimated at 50 or so bikes.

“This program provides a great opportunity to give back,” said Shoup. “It gives the inmates a chance to give back, allows the staff to give back and boost morale, helps the children in need during Christmas and helps keep the landfill clean without being backed up with a lot of bikes and bike parts.”

Although a set date hasn’t currently been scheduled for this year, Wheels of Love normally donates between the first two weeks of December, in tandem with the prison’s other community program A New Leash on Life, which pairs unwanted animals from shelters with inmates for obedience training.

According to Shoup, those interested in donating bikes should call ahead of time and arrange a drop off at the Marion Correctional parking lot, where they will be picked up by staff.

For more information on Wheels of Love or to donate to the program, call the Marion Correctional Institute at (828) 652-4321.

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