Alva James-Johnson

Bike giveaway program continues despite theft

Chester Jackson has to be a saint. Why else would he continue with his Christmas Bike Giveaway program year after year?

Five years ago, after launching the charity at his East Coast Body Shop on Farr Road, 140 bikes were stolen. The next year, young bandits struck again, stealing 50 additional bikes from behind a locked wooden fence.

Security cameras captured photos of the culprits, but Jackson didn’t want anyone to go to prison. He hoped the troubled youths would help him restore bikes for needy children instead.

Well, the thieves were never apprehended, and Jackson continued with his project, giving away 1,000 bikes with the help of people across the country.

Last year, around this time, NBC’s Rossen Report came to town to shine a national spotlight on Jackson’s efforts. In addition to broadcasting the story, the show donated 50 brand new bikes to children at the Boys & Girls Club of Columbus.

It was a joyous occasion and everything was well — until this summer.

For more security, Jackson started keeping the bikes in a trailer donated by Smith Transportation.

“The trailer did not prevent two young men from breaking into Mr. Jackson’s office over the summer,” the release said. “He was deeply affected to learn that it was one of the young men that he mentors who tried to steal a bucket of change that he was aware Mr. Jackson kept in his shop.”

The thief was unaware “of the numerous hidden cameras in the office, which captured him on video trying to steal the very heavy bucket of quarters, dimes and pennies,” according to the release.

“Mr. Jackson collected the change to buy snacks and bicycle parts for the neighborhood kids that gather at his shop during the summer and now after school hours,” the release said. “The young man in the video has been arrested and is waiting for a trial date.”

When I called Jackson for more information about the case, he wouldn’t say much since it’s still pending.

Nicole Buffong, a spokeswoman for his organization, said two other youths damaged property at the shop this summer. Instead of prosecuting them, Jackson had them come to the shop and pay off their debt by helping to fix some bikes. From that experience, one of the young men joined the Army and completed basic training, she said. He later returned to the shop to thank Jackson for his help.

Jackson is continuing with his Christmas bike giveaway program despite the recent incidents, according to the release.

He’s asking for more bike donations from the community, offering to pick them up if necessary. “We look forward to all the smiles that will be on the faces of all the children this December,” he said.

Mr. Jackson is obviously someone with the patience of Job. But there has to be something that the community can do to stop kids from breaking into his shop.

That’s a Christmas gift I’m sure he would appreciate.

Alva James-Johnson: 706-571-8521, @amjreporter