December 4, 2004: Headlines: COS - Panama: NGO's: Service: Washington Post: Pedals for Progress needs new location in Northern Virginia

Peace Corps Online: Directory: Panama: Peace Corps Panama : The Peace Corps in Panama: December 4, 2004: Headlines: COS - Panama: NGO's: Service: Washington Post: Pedals for Progress needs new location in Northern Virginia

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Pedals for Progress needs new location in Northern Virginia

Pedals for Progress needs new location in Northern Virginia

Pedals for Progress needs new location in Northern Virginia

Year's End Threatens to Be End of the Trail for Bike Charity

By Jacqueline L. Salmon
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, December 4, 2004; Page B01

Caption: Keith Oberg, of the local Pedals for Progress, in Springfield lot where bikes are kept in trailers.

What do you do with 900 bicycles?

That is the question haunting Keith Oberg. The Arlington cycling enthusiast runs the local branch of Pedals for Power, a nonprofit organization that collects thousands of bicycles and ships them to charities overseas, which then refurbish them and sell them at reduced prices to farmers, health workers, teachers and students.

But Oberg is facing a looming deadline: He has been storing his bicycles in 40-foot-long trailers in a corner of a parking lot leased by Giant Food in Springfield. Now, Giant is giving up its lease on the parking lot, and Oberg has to move.

Keith Oberg, of the local Pedals for Progress, in Springfield lot where bikes are kept in trailers. (Kevin Clark -- The Washington Post)

"We have until the end of the year," Oberg said. If he can't find a new place to store his bicycles by Dec. 31, he said, he might have to shut down.

At Pedals for Progress's storage site this week -- basically an expanse of crumbling asphalt at the rear of the parking lot -- Oberg climbed up a rickety pile of wooden pallets that serves as a loading dock for the group's five donated trailers.

Rolling up their doors, he revealed hundreds of bicycles nestled wheel to wheel, along with a few child bike seats, boxes of pumps and cartons of donated water bottles. In all, the trailers can hold about 900 bikes.

He pointed to a sleek turquoise bicycle with slender tires.

"This is a high-quality road bike," he said, that would go to an urban messenger or maybe to a group that encourages children to bike race. Tapping a squat adult-size three-wheeler with a hefty metal basket on the back, he noted that farm women like to use them to carry their goods to the market.

"We've also got a tandem back there," he added, pointing past bikes with brand names such as Fuji, Peugeot, Raleigh and Schwinn toward a bike in the rear that could serve as a taxi in a large city.

This batch was set to be shipped to Panama this weekend. But the trailers would fill up again quickly, he said. Last year, the group shipped almost 5,000 bikes overseas from the Washington area that had been collected by 75 groups such as the Boy Scouts, the Jaycees and church organizations.

Overseas, "these bikes aren't toys and recreation," said Oberg, 53. The charities that receive them train laborers to refurbish them, and they are then sold for $10 or $15 to low-income workers and students who use them to travel to and from their jobs or school.

"In effect, we're targeting people who are going to use this asset productively," Oberg said.

Oberg's group is the local branch of Pedals for Progress, which was begun in New Jersey in 1991 by a former Peace Corps volunteer who saw the need for cheap transportation in developing countries.

Since then, the group has shipped 85,000 donated used bicycles to such countries as Colombia, Barbados, Kenya, Sri Lanka and Moldova.

"The bicycles certainly help in long walks, and [help people] avoid paying for buses and transportation from remote areas," said Tom Ford, who runs a Panama program that has received hundreds of Pedals for Progress bikes from Washington.

Plus, Ford said, "bikes run in rain and sun, and we have nine months of rainy season."

Oberg, who was working for a small government agency call the Inter-American Foundation, set up a Washington area branch of Pedals for Progress as a volunteer in 1995. In 2000, he left his job to run the program full time.

As it has grown, Oberg's bicycle program has had difficulty finding a home in the increasingly crowded close-in suburbs, where the group, which has about 400 volunteers, does the bulk of its bike collections. After stints in Arlington and elsewhere in Springfield, Pedals for Progress settled into the Giant site in June 2002.

But Giant gave up its lease this year, and Oberg has to move again.

Giant, which has also donated four trailers to Pedals for Progress, said it is trying to find Oberg another site but so far hasn't come up with one that works for the group.

"We do want to work with him," said Giant spokesman Barry Scher. "It's a great project."

The group's hunt for a new home has led Oberg to query real estate companies, churches, trucking companies and moving firms. He has approached Metro and the Fairfax County Department of Economic Development.

But the real estate boom has made property so valuable that empty lots or aged warehouses that might have worked are now sprouting office buildings.

"Unfortunately now, because of economic trends, warehouse space or industrial space close to the Beltway is very scarce and expensive," Oberg said.

Two groups are holding bike donation events this weekend for Pedals for Progress: Westmoreland Congregational Church in Bethesda and the Langley School in McLean. Then the contents of Oberg's five trailers will be shipped to Panama.

After that, Pedals for Progress's Washington operations might close up shop.

When this story was posted in December 2004, this was on the front page of PCOL:

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Story Source: Washington Post

This story has been posted in the following forums: : Headlines; COS - Panama; NGO's; Service



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