It’s not every day that a bike theft story ends on a good note. But sometimes they do. A man known for collecting cans around Rockaway won’t have to add up those nickels for a new bike after his was stolen last week. The community came together to make sure he got a new one.
On Monday, May 10, a man named Richie was at Stop and Shop in Rockaway Park, doing his usual routine of loading recyclable cans he collected into the machine in exchange for some money, when he looked back and saw that his new bike that he just bought in February, was gone.
Aleksandra Lebedev Brzostek, who owns a small business in Rockaway, heard Richie’s story as he came by to talk to her as he usually does, but this time breaking the bad news. Brzostek says she’s known Richie for many years, as a fellow person from the local Polish community. She says he’s fallen on hard times. “Many years ago, he was involved in an accident and since then, he’s been through a lot. Long story short, he was homeless for a long time in Chicago, where there’s a big Polish community. I’m not sure how he ended up in New York, but he did. He was very shy and scared of people and it was hard for him to trust anyone. Slowly he did build some trust with the small Polish community here and with their help, he now has a place to live right now,” she said. Although no longer homeless, Brzostek says Richie still collects cans to raise money to buy things, like the bike he had bought earlier this year to help in the endeavor.
Feeling bad for her friend after losing his new bike, she took to the local Facebook group, Friends of Rockaway Beach, to ask people to keep a lookout for Richie’s Schwinn bike. “Whenever people lose something or things are stolen from them, they ask the community to be on the lookout, so I posted to Friends of Rockaway Beach and explained that it was very sad that this happened to a poor person who collects cans,” she said. What she didn’t expect was for the group to take it a step beyond keeping an eye out. Some in the group suggested that if she started a GoFundMe to help Richie buy a new bike, they would support it. “It never crossed my mind to set up a GoFundMe but people from this amazing group encourage me to do so and the outcome could not be better!” she said.
Within a few hours of setting up the GoFundMe with a goal of $350 to cover the cost of the bike, Brzostek reached her goal. Friends, members of the community and even Jamie McLeod, owner of Polly & Esther, helped chip in.
With the money in hand, Brzostek asked Richie to find a bike he liked. Unfortunately, the previous bike he had was sold out, so he continued to search local bike shops and some in Brooklyn for similar styles. “He came to me and told me that he found one but it’s $420,” she said. Although over the original goal, Brzostek said others had reached out to her to donate cash, so she knew she had enough money to not only cover the cost of the bike, but to also buy him a lock so that new bike won’t be stolen in the future.
Brzostek went to Larry’s Cycle Shop in Brooklyn, where Richie had picked out his new bike. Unfortunately, after explaining the situation and trying to negotiate, the bike shop wouldn’t cut her a deal, but after Richie had found a bike he liked, the busy working mom didn’t want to waste more time in getting it to him.
On Tuesday, May 18, Brzostek gave Richie his brand new bike. “He was so excited!” she said.
Brzostek is impressed with how quickly this effort came together and how willing people were to help her get Richie a new bike. “It feels amazing. I know Rockaway has great people but there are many others in need, so I am pleasantly surprised of this turnout.” In sharing the news of Richie getting a new bike to Friends of Rockaway Beach, Brzostek posted, “Whoever donated, whoever cheered him up with good words: THANK YOU ALL! Friends of Rockaway Beach is an amazing group of AMAZING PEOPLE.”
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