By Anne Marie Amacher
The Catholic Messenger
DAVENPORT — John Cooper knew that the hungry patrons at McAnthony Window, which serves food weekday mornings, had other needs. The pastoral associate at St. Anthony Parish created a needs application form for patrons to complete. Contact information was requested so that Cooper could reach out to provide assistance.
Requests ranged from rent assistance to steel-toed shoes and bicycles, among other things. He zeroed in on bicycles. “Bikes keep people employed and help them get to appointments,” he said. Walking or riding the city bus are options, but distance and location can become barriers.
Cooper said a parishioner offered him two, almost new bikes last year. He received 33 applications for the bikes. “That confirmed for me that there was a huge need out there.”
Fast-forward a few months. During a Hunger, Housing, Health Task Force meeting held at St. Anthony’s, Cooper talked about how one bike can change a person’s life for the better. Judy Benevento, representing St. John Vianney Parish in Bettendorf, took the idea of collecting bikes to her parish’s social action committee. Dan Schlader, a committee member, contacted Cooper about setting up a process to get bikes to McAnthony Window.
After Schlader and Benevento’s husband, Bill Benevento, got on board, they placed a request for bikes in the parish bulletin. “Dan, Bill and I started picking them up from parishioners. We also got a donation of several from Healthy Habits bike store in Bettendorf,” Judy Benevento said. The two men worked on cleaning, tuning, replacing tires, tubes, etc., and delivering bikes with new locks to St. Anthony’s.
“We’ve really been impressed with the quality of bikes that have come in,” Judy Benevento said. “Parishioners and others have been very generous in giving us bikes that are in really good shape. The Knights of Columbus has given us a donation to help purchase locks, tires and other needs.”
Schlader said donors continue to contact him and the Beneventos. “It is amazing how this ministry started and continues to provide bikes. I volunteer at King’s Harvest serving lunch and when traveling through downtown I will see people riding our bikes.” Several patrons at King’s Harvest who requested bikes at McAnthony Window have been among the recipients. “The flow of bike donations has been about right for Bill and me to prep for delivery.”
Judy Benevento tells the story about a man who was walking five miles each way for his job in Milan, Ill., and how the bike he received has made that trek so much easier.
Cooper said one recipient on the waiting list for six weeks, 69-year-old Diane, quickly claimed her bicycle when contacted. She said she filled out the form and started praying for intercessions to St. Anthony (patron saint of finding things). When she didn’t think she was going to get a bike, she prayed directly to Jesus, Cooper said.
On June 21, Cooper pulled up the garage door at McAnthony’s to reveal two bicycles for patron Tony to choose from. “I forgot about the bike until John called my sister,” Tony said. “I felt lifted up. This is a blessing.” Tony also rides the bus and walks. The bike “will help me physically, too. I just turned 70. Now I feel like I’m 40,” he said.
Getting a strong lock for the bicycle and the option for a helmet were bonuses for him. “I am abundantly blessed and thankful. This will be my new bus and car. I thank St. Anthony’s for being a great avenue to helping those who are in need and to be greeted by a great group of people.”
Mike, another patron, received a bike in May. He said the bicycle will help ease the leg pain he experiences when he walks. “I am thankful and blessed to be here and alive. St. Anthony’s helps us because they care. God is good all the time. I am loving life.”By the end of June, 40 bikes had been distributed to McAnthony Window patrons. Thirty-two of the bikes came from St. John Vianney.
“People are so overwhelmed with how nice the bikes are and that they come with a lock,” Cooper said. “The bikes have enabled people to get to work, to doctor appointments, to get groceries and to get to rehab meetings. By June 28, he had 28 requests for bikes. The ministry continues.
To donate bicycles, contact Judy Benevento at (563) 343-0443 or Schlader at (563) 275-9338. For more information on the program, contact Cooper at (563) 322-3303.