Inspired by a childhood story from a friend, one local business owner last week saw a simple plea on Facebook grow into a demonstration of the generosity and Christmas spirit of Wrightsville Beach.
While the Toys for Tots box in Jimmy’s at Red Dogs had gotten a few bookbags and other items, the bar’s co-owner Jimmy Gilleece wanted to boost donations to the local charitable effort. So Gilleece bought a child’s size bike and put it in the box, posting on Facebook and Instagram on Dec. 4 that he would match up to 10 bike donations.
“In my wildest dreams, I thought we would get 20 bikes,” Gilleece said.
As of Tuesday afternoon, more than 100 bikes of all shapes and sizes crowded the bar, completely covering the dance floor and spilling into the narrow buildings walkways.
Gilleece started the bike drive after hearing a story from a friend from a disadvantaged background who received a donated bike for Christmas.
“He said that when he was a kid, it was amazing to get a bike for Christmas,” Gilleece said. “It gave him a chance to escape reality. When things got bad, he could just get on his bike and ride away. It was a way to escape.”
Keaton Cline, the bar’s other co-owner, said it didn’t take long to discover that the Wrightsville Beach community was heeding the call for bike donations.
“We knew something special was happening on the second day after the post, when we had 43 bikes come in,” Cline said. “It means alot to us, that they would donate their time and money during the holiday season. It’s just so cool.”
The donations are part of the sixth annual Toys for Tots drive organized by local band L-Shaped Lot, which culminates on Saturday with a concert Saturday night at 6:30 p.m. at the Brooklyn Arts Center in Wilmington.
A founding member of the band that gets its name from the nickname for Wrightsville Beach Access No. 4 parking lot, Eric Miller said the bikes raised at Jimmy’s at Red Dogs this year far exceeds the number of bikes last year’s fundraiser brought in. While last year’s toy drive brought in more than 10,000 toys, it included less than 50 bikes, a number already doubled by Gilleece and Cline.
The sheer size of the donation raised some logistical concerns with Miller.
“I was worried about what to do with these bikes, and called Jimmy. He asked if I was stressed out and told me not to stress,” Miller said.
Indeed, other businesses have offered their help. In addition to several local business owners coming in with their own bike donations, Jon Tone, sales manager for Two Men and a Truck, will donate time, manpower and a truck to move the bikes on Sunday, where they will be transported to the warehouse in Murraysville where the Toys for Tots distributions will occur.
The bike donations have come in from all parts of the country, all ages and all professions. One bike was sent from a former patron who now lives in California. The Wrightsville Beach Police Department also donated a pair of bikes from their benevolent fund.
Cpl. Gunnar Matthews, who administers the fund, said that the fund already supports a needy family at Christmas, so adding a bike donation fit with the mission. Officer Sten Taube, who along with Matthews delivered the bike on Tuesday, said that giving the bikes reminded him of getting bikes for Christmas when he was a kid.
“It’s the best thing you can get a kid. Every little kid should have a chance to get a bike,” Taube said.
And a few local children have also gotten into the spirit, using their own money to buy bikes.
“Giving is the best give you can get,” said Warren Goodwin, 10, who along with his sister Abigail, used his own money to buy a bike for the drive.
“It feels better to give than to get,” 11-year-old Abigail Goodwin added.
Their father Sheldon Goodwin, a manager at nearby Sweetwater Surf Shop, said that the kids got a thrill out of seeing how many bikes had been donated, adding that it wasn’t a surprise that Gilleece’s and Cline’s bike drive was drawing so much attention.
“They’re always doing something to give back, people around here have been very happy with the local response,” Goodwin said of the bike drive.
Jimmy’s at Red Dogs isn’t the only local establishment collecting toys for Toys for Tots, a program organized by the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve. Next door at King Neptune, bartender Brandon Wicklund is also organizing a toy collection drive. Instead of returning an empty box this year, Wicklund said the restaurant promoted the drive more effectively this year and have already filled two boxes with toys, partly off the popularity of the restaurants Christmas lights display.
“The Christmas lights have helped, we’ve gotten a lot more participation this year,” said Wicklund, who himself has bought $200 worth of toys to match donations. “It’s great seeing people in the community come out to support local businesses and get involved.”
The Saturday, Dec. 16 show at Brooklyn Arts Center starts at 6:30 p.m., with reggae band Signal Fire going on at 7:30 with L Shaped Lot following them.