K’JIPUKTUK (HALIFAX) – This Sunday 14 bikes were dropped off at apartment buildings in Halifax as part of the Ecology Action Centre’s Welcoming Wheels program. Over the past five years, this initiative has provided newcomers with bicycles and continues to help new residents overcome transportation challenges associated with the COVID-19 pandemic.
Welcoming Wheels was initiated in 2015 and has already donated over 400 bikes to newcomers in Nova Scotia. COVID-19 has changed the way bikes are given away, but the program remains an important means of supporting newcomers.
Anika Riopel, Welcoming Wheels Coordinator with the Ecology Action Centre, says that the pandemic is highlighting the importance of programming that supports marginalized communities.
“The pandemic has impacted members of our community differently, highlighting the issue of inequity provincially, nationally, and globally,” Riopel says.
Lani Poce, Community Connection Coordinator with Immigrant Services Association of Nova Scotia (ISANS), says that many of the newcomers who participate in the Welcoming Wheels program live in apartments and are reliant on the transit system for transportation.
“In the past recipients have used the bikes to get to work, school, and for recreation. However, since Covid-19 arrived in Nova Scotia, families have been looking for ways to keep their kids busy,” says Poce. “Having bikes provides an excellent opportunity for children to get out of their apartments and be active while maintaining social distance.”
Riopel echoes a similar statement. “Bicycles give people another form of transportation and provide positive physical and mental benefits,” says Riopel. “This is more important now than ever.”
The bikes are being enthusiastically received. A thank you message from a recipient reads: “I saw the bike when I got home last evening, and you ought to have seen the smile on my face! Thank you very much and to the rest of your team.”
Welcoming Wheels works with partners such as ISANS and the Halifax Refugee Clinic to find interested newcomers. The program is also supported by a dedicated group of volunteers who repair donated secondhand bikes.