Two huge items were knocked off one family’s wish list Tuesday night as two sisters brought home brand-new bicycles.
New bikes were on the Christmas lists of 10-year-old Anmarie Jimenez and her sister, 8-year-old Andrea Jimenez, said their mother Anabel Jimenez.
Anmarie and Andrea’s bikes were getting old, she added. The tires were constantly going flat and simply needed replaced. Tuesday night’s Bikes for Tykes was a blessing for the Bradenton family.
“It means a lot. It’s a little overwhelming because I know that it’s something they wanted,” Jimenez said. “It’s like a Christmas wish came true.”
As they walked up to receive their ribbon-clad bikes the front of the Manatee County Sheriff’s Office, Jimenez stayed back with her son Antonio, 17, and oldest daughter Angeleigh, 14, and pulled out her phone to take pictures of her two youngest daughters.
“They care mostly about their little sisters getting the bikes,” Jimenez said of her older children, beaming. “It makes me so proud of them.”
The Manatee County Sheriff’s Office and Toughenuff, a family-owned business that sells accessories and gifts for men, combined to give more than 100 Manatee County children bicycles for the holidays.
Robby Hukill, whose parents own Toughenuff, said Tuesday night’s event was part of something his family does every year: finding a way to give back.
Hukill, who works as an insurance underwriter at FCCI Insurance Group during the day and helps his parents with their business at night, came up with the idea for Bikes for Tykes as a way to help children in need and thought it important to include law enforcement in the event.
“The connection between kids and law enforcement is important,” Hukill said. “These people serve and protect us. That’s what we’re here for.”
“Hopefully the interaction helps them know we’re here for them,” said Sgt. Keith Wallace of the Manatee County Sheriff’s Office, who assisted in organizing Bikes for Tykes on the law enforcement end.
Wallace was one of the people Hukill contacted when the idea came to him. Wallace said he organized a meeting just a couple of weeks ago that clarified things, and the program was set in motion.
Families were selected from a list provided by several agencies and area schools. Then the bikes were matched to the children, with a few last minute switches.
Bikes of all sizes and colors were lined up along the entrance and inside the crime prevention office of the Manatee County Sheriff’s Office. Each was donned with a bow and a numbered tag that matched it a specific child in the crowd gathered outside.
Bagpipe players performed Christmas carols, hot dogs were grilled, Culver’s passed out ice cream, and members of the Conquistador Historical Foundation provided entertainment as the families waited for numbers to be called.
The event came together in a rush. Hukill started organizing it in late November. By Tuesday, they had more than 100 bikes to give away to children ages 3 to 13 years old, helping about 80 Manatee County families in the process.
“These are the kids we’re trying to influence a little,” Wallace said of the age group. “All the faces I’ve seen ... I’ve seen the joy of receiving the item.”
Over the next few days, the remainder of the bikes that were not picked up Tuesday will be delivered to families designated to receive them.
Wallace said if the event is continued next year, organizers will have a much earlier start. He encourages those interested in helping with events like this to find one and get involved.