Wheels of hope
Marc Valero | Highlands TodaySEBRING - Leonard Gates got the job he needed to move out of a homeless shelter three years ago, but he had one need that has now spurred an effort that has helped dozens.
Published: October 16, 2012
Published: October 16, 2012
Paul Scruton, a volunteer with Samaritan's Touch Care Center, remembers Gates' smile when he talked about getting that job at a fast food restaurant.
"He couldn't get that smile off his face," Scruton remembered. He asked him how he was going to get to work, which was six miles away.
Gates said he had a bicycle, but it wasn't very good.
After a quick look at the rusted bike with crooked handlebars, Scruton knew it wouldn't do for a 12-mile round-trip commute.
"I said, 'Leonard, we are going to get you a new bike,'" Scruton said.
Scruton put out the call to his friends and neighbors in the Highlands Ridge community and the next thing he knew he had six bicycles.
"I took the best one and I gave it to Leonard and he still has it today and that was three years ago June," Scruton said.
Then there was a question of what to do with the other five donated bicycles.
"Apparently there's a need out there for our patients at Samaritan's Touch Care Center and so I started my bicycle ministry," Scruton said.
After three years, 61 people who had no other way to get around can now get to work, visit friends or go to the grocery store because they got a bicycle from the bike ministry.
Samaritan's Touch is a faith-based health care center offering free primary and specialized medical care to uninsured financially struggling families in Highlands County.
"We have saved many lives there over the past four and a half years," Scruton said.
He does minor repairs and replaces tires, etc. on the donated bikes at his house and then delivers them where they are needed.
Scruton once delivered a bike to a homeless man at a park bench.
Another bike went to a 67-year-old Lorida woman who suffers from emphysema and takes care of her 42-year-old daughter who is severely mentally handicapped.
Scruton stopped by a mobile home park in Avon Park on Monday morning to see John Davis, who received bicycle number 60 about two weeks ago.
Davis worked for 20 years with the crate factory in Avon Park, but when the factory closed he became unemployed and had some tough times, Scruton explained. Davis lived with a sister in Roanoke, Va. for a time before he returned recently to Avon Park.
Davis mounted a milk crate for a basket on the front of the bike, which he rides everyday, including trips for groceries.
"It helps greatly; it's my primary means of transportation," he said. "It sure beats walking."
He requested a lady's bike for the ease of mounting.
"It has seven speeds; I got it dropped down to the lowest speed; my legs are just not able to do what they used to," Davis said. "I can either go straight up to Wal-Mart or the Save-A-Lot."
It's less than three miles to Wal-Mart, which is around the block compared to the occasional rides he used to take from North Lake Avenue in Avon Park to a state assistance office on Ridgewood Drive in Sebring.
Samaritan's Touch has helped him greatly, Davis said, with dental work and supplying medications.
"I have had blood clots and high blood pressure," he added.
Scruton noted that of the 61 bikes that have been given away, 32 came from his neighbors in the Highlands Ridge community.
He has six bicycles he is fixing up now that will soon go to someone in need.
The new bike owners are grateful and often thank him.
Scruton tells the recipients, "Don't thank me, thank God."
As far as he's concerned, he's just delivering them in his van.
Samaritan's Touch Care Center has as a Sebring clinic at 3015 Herring Ave. and a Lake Placid Clinic at 300 W. Interlake Blvd.
To donate a bicycle or more information contact the Sebring clinic at 471-1870.