WE ARE HOMETOWN NEWS.

WEST SPRINGFIELD — Dozens of youngsters recently gave up their Saturday morning to give back to their communities by filling backpacks — Cruiser Care Packs — with winter gear to help people experiencing homelessness stay warm.

About 40 youngsters representing several youth service groups, including the Boy Scouts, the Girl Scouts and 4-H clubs, teamed up with area first responders and Bob “The Bike Man” Charland at his Front Street shop in West Springfield to fill the Cruiser Care Packs. This was the second year that youth organizations volunteered to help Charland with the program he began in 2017.

Among the items they packed inside were cold weather necessities, such as hats, gloves, socks, scarves hats, blankets, handwarmers, chewable snack bars and blankets. These personal care supplies were also included: lip balm, toothbrushes, toothpaste, lotions, deodorant, soap, sanitary wipes, combs and tissues.

Once the more than 300 Cruiser Care Packs were full, youngsters then helped load them into waiting police cruisers and fire department vehicles from Massachusetts and Connecticut. The Cruiser Care Packs — which were in a variety of colors in addition to black — will be distributed by law enforcement officers and firefighters to people without housing and others in need across the region.

“It was a great turnout,” said Charland as he watched youngsters stuff vehicles with backpacks. “It was amazing to have so many young people participating. They did a fantastic job.”

Charland is the founder of Pedal Thru Youth, a nonprofit organization that promotes an active and healthy lifestyle among young people by donating bikes that he fixes, along with helmets, to low-income families. Pedal Thru Youth partners with local charities, law enforcement and public schools to serve local communities.

First responders who picked up the Cruiser Care Packs at the Jan. 27 event included Hampden County sheriff’s deputies, State Police troopers, firefighters and police officers from several communities, including West Springfield.

The Pedal Thru Youth event was the result of a months-long effort. Donated items were collected in bins at the Agawam and West Springfield public libraries, at Curry Honda in Chicopee and at Charland’s West Springfield shop.

Several 4-H clubs across the state contributed many supplies for the Cruiser Care Packs, as did numerous Girl Scout troops. Sock manufacturer Bombas donated 12,000 pairs of winter socks and anonymous donors provided backpacks and 1,500 new winter coats.

“This is a great way for these youth service organizations to come together to serve those in need as well as work hand-in-hand with officers to show the positive side of law enforcement,” Charland said. “It also was an important opportunity for these kids to volunteer and give back to others in their communities.”

Among the youngsters who volunteered to help Charland at the event were three Girl Scouts from an Agawam troop. Kasey Fillion, 12, said she came to help people who need the items she put in a backpack.

“There are so many less fortunate people out there who don’t have hats, gloves or coats to keep warm in cold weather. They don’t have the money to get what they need. I was happy to do this with my friends because it was a good cause,” she said.

Jillian Kislus, 12, another Agawam Girl Scout, said she felt those who are homeless deserve the winter clothing.

“It’s cold on the street and people need stay warm to survive winter. It was a good feeling knowing that I was doing something to help them. I can only imagine what it must be like to be living outside in cold weather.”

Seven-year-old Rileyann Gilbert, another Agawam Girl Scout, agreed.

“If I was homeless and living on the street, I would want somebody to help me. It makes me happy because many people who are homeless will feel better now with something to help them keep warm,” she said.

Lee Inacio, a member of the K9Wizards, a 4-H dog club in Southwick, felt it was important to come out on a Saturday to help give back to the community and help people who need cold weather items.

“It’s a giant act of kindness for volunteers to give back to their community with something like this,” said Inacio, who lives in West Springfield.

“We all need to function in society, but sometimes there are people who need extra to get through some tough times. I feel very happy about what I did,” said the 17-year-old. “It was a chance to help those in need or those with low incomes get through the winter.”

Charland, an honorary Hampden County deputy sheriff, started fixing bikes to donate to less fortunate kids in 2012. Five years later, in 2017, after being diagnosed with a neurodegenerative disease, he decided to create Pedal Thru Youth and start donating bikes to large groups of children.

His charitable work has earned Charland numerous awards from local governments and community agencies for his contributions to the community, including the Springfield City Council and the Center for Human Development.

mlydick@thereminder.com | + posts