GOSHEN — County officials have formalized a program to divert bicycles from the landfill to give some wheels to people in work release and community service programs.

Elkhart County Commissioners approved a policy allowing the County Landfill to take incoming bicycles, fix them up and donate them to criminal offenders in work release or community service who work there on a volunteer basis. It’s a practice started by one of the landfill employees, who decided to match fixable bikes with people who usually have to walk or take the bus to put in their hours.

“One of the gentlemen we recently hired had the idea of pulling bicycles out of the landfill and fixing them up on his lunch hour. Then I would go out and buy little things, bicycle tubes, nothing fancy, just to make them rideable,” landfill and solid waste director John Bowers said. “I thought it was nice, one of my employees saw a need, he asked, and we started doing it.”

He said they provided about 10 bicycles to volunteers so far, and decided to write up a formal policy in order to keep doing it. He said employees keep an eye out for bikes that can be pulled out and repaired, and some of them pitch in by bringing in spare parts.

The policy adopted by the commissioners Monday specifies that the repairs have to be done on employees’ own time, and landfill equipment and supplies can be used to help with the rehabilitation as long as the landfill manager approves. The fixed bikes can only be donated, and will be provided to the Elkhart County Sheriff’s Office or a community corrections program to offenders in good standing who need transportation help. 

“The beauty of it is, there’s no cost to Elkhart County or the landfill,” Bowers said. “It’s all generated by the bikes coming in or people donating parts.” 

Bowers brought the community service and work release program with him when he came to the landfill from the county highway department. He said people on work release, usually through Michiana Community Corrections, come in Monday to Friday and the community service, which has close to two dozen participants, is Saturday morning.

They do tasks like pick up loose trash, mow the grass and cut wood. He said it’s something they often do to keep busy until they find a job.

“It allows them to get outside instead of sit in the work release facility,” he said. “Usually we pick up work release in the morning, and they see the bicycles and ask about them. They’re volunteering for us, so we say, if you want it, you can have it.”

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