40 Years of Foster Santa Bike Build Program for At-Risk Kids Now Seen as Building Something More

Early Monday morning, December 7, 2015, when the Sacramento Wheelmen roll into the offices of EMQ FamiliesFirst with their tools and expertise, they will meet with other volunteers from the City of Sacramento Police Department, 14 aspiring police pre-hires, and Sacramento Police Bike Patrol officers to carry out a mission: to build and tune up 300 donated bicycles for kids aged toddler to teen who are living in high-stress situations. But these bikes have an even bigger purpose. When delivered directly into kids’ hands, they begin to build and fortify bridges into rough neighborhoods where people are naturally wary and trust is scarce. The bikes are tangible proof that people do care and something good can come from law enforcement and social service personnel.

“When children are removed from their families, often with law enforcement involvement, they are leery of who is taking them away and placing them into an unknown home filled with strangers,” says Hillary Gaines, EMQ FamiliesFirst Sacramento Manager of Community Development. “A new bike is something a child can hang on to as his or her world is changing; it’s an important tool to help establish trust between the child and the law enforcement or social service professional who is trying to establish rapport and offer support.”

During the holidays, many generous organizations collect toys, coats, bikes and food for under-served youth and families. Donors feel good, collectors are glad to make the effort, and recipients will be grateful. However, when the holidays are over, the stress doesn’t dissipate and daily life is just as tough for families and children. EMQ FamiliesFirst, a statewide, nonprofit organization, provides services 365 days a year for 20,000 children and families annually with mental health issues and/or behavioral problems caused by trauma, addiction or abuse.

The agency first started the Foster Santa program in Sacramento 40 years ago, and today it operates in 7 other counties in Northern California. This project is also an important part of the mission of the Sacramento Police Department. Both organizations serve in the same neighborhoods and share a joint mission to work in partnership with the community to solve problems, protect lives, and enhance the quality of life.

“We have been pleased to work with EMQ FamiliesFirst and its Foster Santa program for at least 5 years to provide bikes, as well as safety education and registration practices, to kids and families we have come to know personally,” says Lieutenant Roman Murrietta, Sacramento Police Department, Office of the Chief – Cops & Clergy. “The value of placing these bikes in kids’ hands can’t be underestimated. Additionally, we are creating an education program to train youth how to repair and build bikes that they can use or provide to other under-served kids from our communities.”

Distribution of bikes will take place throughout December beginning with two events: Christmas in the Neighborhood at the Elevate Life Church on Saturday, December 19, and on December 20 at the South Sacramento Christian Center. EMQ FamiliesFirst and Sacramento Police Department appreciate Dynacraft’s loyal sponsorship to provide thousands of bikes over the years.