A Pittsburgh police officer walked into a Garfield bike shop two years ago, introduced himself, told the owner about some unclaimed bikes at the nearby East Liberty station and asked if he'd "tune them up" so they'd be safe to give to needy children at Christmas.
"Sure," said Jerry Kraynick. "Let's take a look at them."
Mr. Kraynick's holiday season hasn't been the same since.
Officer Kevin McNamara drove him to the Zone 5 police station on Penn Circle West at Broad Street. The bicycles, about 100 of them, were stored in the firing range area. Some appeared to be good to go while others needed major or minor repairs. The remainder had traveled their last miles.
"I told Kevin I'd repair what I could and, if possible, salvage parts from those that were beyond repair," Mr. Kraynick said. "I said he and his fellow officers could give them to kids who needed a bike. They gave bikes to 40 youngsters that first year."
Last year, after the public was asked to donate unused bicycles to "The Bike Before Christmas" campaign, Mr. Kraynick repaired more than 200 bicycles. Officer McNamara, now retired, saw to it that the repaired bikes were taken to the station for storage until they were given away.
"It was a lot of work, but well worth it," said Mr. Kraynick, 63. "My dad owned a bike shop, and the first bike I had was made out of parts from other bikes. I didn't own a new bike until I was 21 and bought it myself."
Mr. Kraynick said he and the city again are looking for operable bikes, or those that require only minimal repairs, especially for children 3 to 12.
"The sooner we get them, the faster we can repair them," he said, referring to fellow bike mechanics, friends and customers he has "deputized" to help him. He said city bike mechanics also have offered to help.
The Bike Before Christmas campaign has received a big boost this year from Mayor Luke Ravenstahl -- "He thinks it's a great idea," said spokesman Dick Skrinjar -- and from the city's decision to expand the number of drop-off points.
In addition to the East Liberty station house, Mr. Skrinjar said, bikes can be taken at any time to any city police station: Zone 1, 1501 Brighton Road, North Side; Zone 2, 2000 Centre Ave., Hill District; Zone 3, 18th and Mary streets, South Side; and Zone 4 at 5858 Northumberland St., Squirrel Hill.
Bikes also can be taken -- during business hours only -- to Mr. Kraynick's shop at 5003 Penn Ave., Garfield. It is open from 11:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily, except Wednesdays and Sundays, and from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturdays.
Mr. Kraynick said officer McNamara's visit in 2004 was a matter of "perfect timing."
"Things slow down for me in the fall so I figured I'd have time to work on them," he said. "Now, with bike donations from the public and the efforts of those who have offered to help repair them, the police should be able to make a lot of deserving kids happy this year."
Visitors to Mr. Kraynick's has-everything shop will see bicycle parts occupying almost every square foot of the narrow, chilly two-story building. They hang from the ceiling and from the walls, fill vintage metal file cabinets and lean against other parts. He uses space heaters to keep everyone warm.
Mr. Kraynick is a professor in the "you can do it; I'll show you how" school of bike repair. As a result, customers save money by using his tools at no charge to do their own repairs in the back half of the building, and Mr. Kraynick makes money by selling the parts. He doesn't sell new bikes.
Asked why he readily agreed to officer McNamara's request two years ago, Mr. Kraynick smiled and said:
"Every kid should have a bike. It made me feel good to see kids riding some of the bikes they received at Christmas. There are a lot of good usable bikes out there that people don't want anymore. We'll find good homes for them."
Among those who have helped find good homes in recent years for the city's former Recycle-A-Cycle program are churches, the Salvation Army, the YMCA, and the Young Men and Women's African Heritage Association.
Lawrence Walsh can be reached at email@example.com and 412-263-1488.