Giant USA is helping make mobility just a little bit easier for some of the people who lost everything in the Thomas Fire. The brand has donated 200 Momentum Park bicycles to survivors whose homes were destroyed by the largest wildfire in California history. The city of Ventura was hardest hit, with more than 500 homes lost in the blaze that began the night of December 4th and raged across Ventura and Santa Barbara counties for weeks before being brought under control.
Bert Van Auker and his wife, Barbara Brown, lost nearly everything they owned the first night of the fire. They fled their home, saving only their dog and four boxes of photographs as flames bore down on their Colina Vista Street neighborhood in east Ventura.
Now, as the couple navigates insurance claims and disaster applications and the prospect of rebuilding their house, the retired firefighter tries to stay positive. “We have good days and bad days – good and bad moments, actually,” he says.
This past Sunday was one of the good days.
Van Auker received a new Momentum Park bicycle; he was also among the dozens of volunteers who built and distributed the first 120 Momentum Park bikes of Giant’s donation to fire survivors. 13 Giant employees were among the army of people who began building the bikes shortly before 10:00 a.m. outside the Bike Hub collective bicycle workshop on Ventura Avenue.
Recipients of the donated bikes were so appreciative that a few broke into tears as they were fit on the colorful city bikes. “You know, as horrible as the fire was, it’s brought out such goodness and blessings from so many people,” said Anita Miller, who lost her home in Ventura. “It’s brought a community together that might otherwise have never met. Thank you so much.”
Giant’s donation of the Momentum bikes has been coordinated through BikeVentura, a non-profit, grassroots organization working to foster a safe, healthy community through bicycle-centered education, empowerment, and advocacy in Ventura County. Working with County officials, BikeVentura set up an application process in the days before the giveaway to assure that fire survivors would enjoy a new ride.
People began lining up early and by the time the giveaway began at 2:00 p.m. the line of recipients stretched more than a block. “We had a huge demand,” said Joey Luhasz-Lukomski, Executive Director of BikeVentura. “Giant’s donation made this a very special day. And the volunteers were just amazing. It was a wonderful crowd.”
Patrick VanHorn, one of the Giant employees who volunteered at the giveaway, has lived in Ventura for 25 years. “Ventura is less than 20 miles from Giant’s headquarters in Newbury Park and there are several of us who live and commute to work from here,” he said. “Luckily none of us lost our homes, but we all know people who did. To be able to help make their lives just a little easier and a little more fun is maybe the most important thing I’ve done in my career in the industry. I’m very proud to be a Giant employee.”