Walter Mulbry has never owned a new bicycle, or so the tale is told. We've seen him tinker with Treks, Schwinns, and the latest e-bike to roll across our threshold, and we believe him. He may have never owned a new bike, but he's had his share of bikes in the family. Around our warehouse he's absolutely electric! No joke, he drives an electric car, rides an electric bike, and will talk your ear off about e-bikes.
Walter joined our team the second we put a call out for daytime volunteer mechanics. He went through our short training program and has been showing up in the warehouse every week since. His main duty is to remove good, usable parts off bikes that are not worth saving. There's a small, but growing, group of folks who fill up the bike stands morning, noon, and night. They help us save those marginal bikes that are donated that really aren't worth shipping.
If a bike comes in with a broken frame, too many missing parts, or is a cheaper department store bike with significant rust it often ends up in our 'junk bike' pile (which you can see here in the photo over Walter's right shoulder). Previously many of these bikes were just thrown into the shipping stacks and donated to our partners overseas as is in hopes that they could use the parts to fix other bikes we donated. We realized this was simply creating waste in other countries where recycling may or may not be possible. This was a practice high on our priority list to STOP doing.
The crew from Stone Ridge really helped us initiate this program. As their BfW program grew, we shifted the girls from loading to parts stripping. Two days a month the team of a dozen would show up in the warehouse and maybe strip 5-7 bikes every session. We saw the immediate impact this had in improving our shipments by both cutting back on how many unusable bikes ended up in the container while also increasing the number of parts included for the mechanics.
When we moved to Rockville we combined our warehouse and office for the first time ever. We also had a comfortable, permanent, roomy area where we could work and organize. We immediately set out to make this a workable space where volunteers could come to learn, help, and work on their own. Operations Manager Bob, with the help of Glenn, created our 'parts wall' where we would collect and sort parts we saved from those marginal frames. This would allow the staff to open the warehouse to these trained volunteers any time they were in the office. It became the perfect volunteer opportunity for our retired supporters who could commit to a regular volunteer shift on their time.
We now have three volunteers working once a week during the day and three in the afternoon/evening. So when we were in Arlington, we recovered parts from about 10-15 bikes a month, mostly through our work with Stone Ridge. We still work with Stone Ridge and now have this regular team of volunteers- together they strip between 100-150 bikes a month! This is HUGE in helping us meet our goal of improving our shipments, eliminating waste, and providing added value to our shipments through spare parts.
In addition to helping us strip parts, Walter also helps load containers and recently learned how to box up parts for each of our partners, which varies country to country. When an e-bike comes in the warehouse, Walter is immediately on it. He will determine if it can be saved or stripped. These often come in without the charging cables or have dead batteries. The latest one, looked brand new, but the battery was spent. Walter did some investigation and found a replacement battery cost as much as some new bikes. But he found another battery and McGyvered it to work. He then test rode the bike to ensure it held a charge.
Walter is also constantly spreading the word about Bikes for the World. He regularly picks up bikes from his neighborhood and delivers them to our warehouse. He has worked with the Takoma Park Police Department to have their abandoned bikes donated to us. He definitely keeps the energy flowing around Bikes for the World. Except maybe that one time he left his key FOB in his pocket during a loading...yeah, you know where we are going with this story...it got a free trip to El Salvador! (Come on, you know I couldn't leave that story out)