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Bicycle giveaway in Fayetteville carries on without founder

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FAYETTEVILLE, N.C. -

On Saturday, approximately 1,000 children in the Sandhills got what will likely be the highlight of their Christmas this year. Thanks to the BicycleMan organization they walked out of warehouse near Hope Mills with a bicycle and a smile.

"I liked the bikes," said 10-year-old Neo Underwood. "There were just so many of them. I just wanted to choose all of them."

Neo did decide on just one though, just like all the other children who got to look through the rows of bikes on their own. Each child had help from a volunteer, but parents had to wait outside.

"To them, [a bike is] important," explained mother Lashawna Francis. "They see all their friends with it. They say ‘Mommy, I want a bike. I want a bike.' Well today they got a bike, and they're happy.

"Not a lot of people would open up their heart to do stuff like that. I think it's really nice. They're going to get their blessings for that one."

While the giveaway Saturday was very much like others in recent years, it was the first without the Bicycle Man himself Moses Mathis. He died at age 76 in July.

He started the charity by fixing up used bikes and giving them away more than 20 years ago. Over the years donations grew. People donated both used and new bikes to be given away to need children whose families likely could not afford a bike very easily. Any used bikes that needed work have been fixed and put in rows with the new bikes at the BicycleMan warehouse.

Shortly before Mathis's death, his wife Ann promised to continue the organizations work. She had always been by his side along the way, and she wanted to be sure their efforts did not end.

"I'm happy that I could do this. I promised him that I would do this, and I'm going to do this," Mrs. Mathis said, referring to plans to keep the charity going for years to come. "I think I surprised myself it came together so well."

When Moses Mathis founded the giveaway more than 20 years ago, his only goal was to put a smile on a child's face. With every child who came through the door Saturday you could see that success continues.

"Just to see all the children that were there, that were in there with the smiles on their faces coming out the door, it was awesome," said Neo's mother Rachel Underwood.

Volunteer Gary Sidberry said you could feel the spirit of giving. He helped several children navigate the rows of bicycles to pick out the one the liked best.

"They're just running all over the place trying to find one special bike, and then when they get that bike they're just like, ‘Oh my God. This is my bike. This is my bike.' So it's amazing to see the smiles on their faces and then they run on out the door," Sidberry said.

Amongst all the activity of children and volunteers and parents, Ann Mathis admitted it was still hard to carry on without her husband of more than 40 years. She acknowledged the tireless work of supporters including the organization's board of directors and other donors, but she also kept her late husband at the top of her mind.

"I guess I shouldn't be [surprised], but I didn't know how many people appreciated Moses until now the support has been so great," Mrs. Mathis said. "I wish he was here, this was his thing to see the smiles on those kids' faces out there, that was Moses. I know he was here with me in spirit."

It is that spirit that Mrs. Mathis says guides the giveaway as it continues. Saturday proved she not only kept her promise to keep it going, but that there is support to keep it growing too.

Brandon Herring

Brandon is a North Carolina native and UNC alum who lives in Fayetteville, and covers Cumberland County and the Sandhills. Returning to North Carolina to work as a journalist is a dream come true for Brandon. More>>

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