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Bicycles link disparate communities of Sanibel and Immokalee

By Staff | Feb 24, 2010

Low-income Immokalee residents examine used bicycles from Sanibel Island before making their choices on Tuesday morning.

On Tuesday morning, low-income residents streamed onto the plaza of the Redlands Christian Migrant Association (RCMA) Immokalee Community School to help unload three trailers and choose among 150 bicycles donated by Sanibel Island residents.

Bikes that had been objects of pleasure and exercise in the affluent beach community became sources of essential transportation in impoverished Immokalee.

The bike giveaway was launched last year by Annie Nachtscheim, a Sanibel trucking company owner, as a way to help some of Florida’s poorest residents. Nachtscheim received big assistance from both the Sanibel Bicycle Club and Billy’s Rentals, which served as a donation point.

“It’s just amazing,” said Nachtscheim. “Only 45 minutes from here, there is such poverty.”

Immokalee-based Redlands Christian Migrant Association, a non-profit network of more than 75 child care centers, received the bicycles earlier this week and shared them with six other social service agencies in town.

Billy Kirkland, owner of Billy’s Rentals, hauled the three trailer loads of donated bicycles to Immokalee.

“The residents of the island are a very giving people,” Kirkland added.

Some of Tuesday’s first new bicycle owners came from St. Matthew’s House, a homeless shelter that was allotted nine of the bikes.

“Our clients are happy,” said Ana Estrella, an administrative assistant there.

Bicycles are part of Sanibel’s serene ambiance. The island has 27 miles of bike paths and a 300-member bicycle club. In Immokalee, bicycles are a common, utilitarian vehicle for the thousands of area farm workers who labor in the winter vegetable industry.

The farm workers have suffered exceptional financial stress in the last month. January’s prolonged freeze destroyed as much as two-thirds of some crops, triggering comparable job losses in the fields and packing houses.