By Kassie Parisi
CLIFTON PARK — More than 200 kids will receive brand new bicycles for Christmas, but they won’t be from Santa Claus.
Employees at County Waste, a garbage and recycling company based in Clifton Park, spent part of the day Tuesday assembling 211 bikes that will go to children living in poverty in the Capital Region.
County Waste is owned by Waste Connections, a national firm that launched the now-annual bike-building event five years ago as part of its “Christmas Promise” program, which distributes the bikes and helmets to charities.
County Waste has donated a total of 700 bikes to various groups over the years, including the Troy Boys and Girls Club, In Our Own Voices and local churches.
Employees — there are 200 at the Clifton Park location — donate money to buy the bikes, and the company matches the amount raised. County Waste also accepts outside donations for the project. This year, County Waste raised a total of $12,000 for the program.
Then, employees take some time during the day, either coming in before a shift or donating time later on, to unpack the bike parts, assemble them and test them. Later this week and early next week, the bikes will be shipped to area charities and churches.
Mark Ceresa, district manager at the Clifton Park County Waste operation, said seeing how happy the kids are when they receive the bikes is one of the best parts of the effort for him.
The number of bikes donated through the program has grown each year, starting at 50 bikes five years ago, Ceresa said.
Most of the bikes are meant to be “first-time” bikes for young children, and they come in a range of colors — those assembled on Tuesday were pink and green and yellow.
But recently, he said, County Waste has gotten requests to buy bikes that would be suitable for older children. Those bikes, Ceresa said, will probably go to children in foster care who might not have been able to take their old bikes with them when they moved. This year, there were two larger mountain bikes assembled, as well.
Employees are sometimes able to attend the charity drop-offs. Ceresa explained that every aspect of the program, from watching employees come together to have a good time assembling the bikes, to seeing them interact with the kids when they receive the gifts, makes it a memorable time for everyone involved.
“It’s one of the most rewarding things about my job — to see the team come together throughout the year and the fundraising — to see everybody have a good time and come in and build these and know how important it is,” Ceresa said.