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Blacks, Operation St. Nick provide new bikes to 42 kids

Program has given more than 500 bikes to children in need

The 10th anniversary of Operation St. Nick's Bicycle Program for children in need was a huge success, with 42 children receiving new bikes, helmets and locks before the Memorial Day weekend began.

Thanks to Augie and Marie Black's generosity, since the program began in 2003, over 500 bikes have been given to children from families in need.

"These 42 children in grades kindergarten through eighth grade received their bikes prior to Memorial Day weekend, a goal of the Black family, so the children could enjoy their new bikes all summer long," Kathy Lambros, chairperson for this Operation St. Nick project, said.

"The expressions on these children's faces were priceless. A new bike, helmet and lock of their very own gave even the youngest students a feeling of pride and ownership. It's like they're receiving a Christmas present at the beginning of summer. They expect Santa to come on Christmas Day, but they are not expecting a new bike when school gets out."

Operation St. Nick's President Joe Schmitz was enthused by the program's success.

"The bikes, helmets and locks totaled $5,116 this year, making the total for the 10-year anniversary over $60,000, a remarkable accomplishment and investment in the youth of Grundy County, a goal Augie and Marie had some 10 years ago," Schmitz said.

Each child had to submit a short essay stating what a new bike would mean to them. The parents of these children were required to fill out an application stating the number of adults and children in their household, plus the gross monthly household income, including child support and proof of income.

"Our goal is to help families that are in the 1 1/2 times poverty level and below, assuring the need is there from a financial viewpoint," Lambros continued.

Operation St. Nick, since 1979, has been helping families in need at Christmas with toys, clothing, and food. The programs have been expanded to help children go back to school with clothing and school supplies in mid-August.

The bike program; a special White Sox bus trip for the children and their parents that is partnered with the Chicago White Sox; and a new program that was initiated last year to help the families of servicemen and servicewomen who were deployed, 12 Days of Christmas Giving, have been added because of the generosity of the people of Grundy County.

In 2011, Operation St. Nick spent nearly $150,000 on Grundy County families in need who had fallen on hard times for one reason or another. The expenditures included the bike program, $6,013; back-to-chool clothing and supplies, $58,269; food for the Christimas holiday season, $26,300; toys, clothing and gifts for children at Christmas, $32,056; military families granted Christmas wishes as part of the 12 Days of Christmas Giving, $10,260; the White Sox bus trip, $2,897; and families with emergency needs during the year that are not part of these programs, $13,161.

"Operation St. Nick," Schmitz said, "is a 100-percent volunteer organization with no salaries, rent or utilities, so the donations we receive during the year go directly to help your neighbors and friends here at home who have had financial problems during the year for one reason or another.

"The last four or five years have been extremely difficult on many families due to the economy and high unemployment. We do everything we can to help as many families with children as possible cope through these difficult times. It's all possible because of the generosity of people like the Blacks and others who donate to our radio auction in December and attend the Christmas parties at Brandt's Tavern in July and Clayton's Tap in December."

Donations can be sent to Operation St. Nick, P.O. Box 781, Morris, IL, 60450, anytime during the year.

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