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Retired engineer gives back repairing bikes

John Purchase finds purpose in SVdP Bike Shop

In the back of a noisy workshop, with a child-size bright green bike hanging up on the rack, John Purchase oils and reattaches the bike’s chain. Today his goal is to try and get the bike back into a ridable condition.

The small workshop at St. Vincent de Paul is a far cry from working on satellites for the European Space Agency, but this SVdP volunteer finds fixing up bikes for those in need in the community so rewarding.

Man looking at the wheel of a bike

“[I enjoy] solving problems, and working with my hands,” he said. “It’s a good crew [in the bike shop].”

John is originally from England but spent his career moving and working around Europe. He eventually landed in the United States, at a job in Arizona, before he retired.

During the fall of 2020, he saw an ad online for the SVdP and Second Chance Bike Drive. The ad included information about giving back through donations or volunteering. Intrigued, he reached out to the SVdP volunteer office to see if he could put his engineering skills to use.

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“When we saw that ad, my wife said, ‘Why don’t you try that?’” John remembered. “I’m a retired aerospace engineer…all my life I’ve always made stuff. I enjoy woodworking and HiFi Stereo and amateur radio. And I build guitars. So, working on bikes seemed a good thing to do.” 

Man looking at things on a tool bench

He started volunteering two days a week in January. 

When he comes into volunteer, John spends about four hours each day tinkering, diagnosing, replacing, and adjusting what he can. He and the team in the bike shop work on repairing bikes that are donated, throughout the year and through initiatives like the Second Chance Bike Drive, so they can be used again.

“We take these bikes and figure out what’s wrong,” he said. “If they can be repaired then we do that. If they can’t, they go into recycled.”

Man putting air in the tires of a bicycle

The volunteers make sure that all the usable parts from donated bikes go towards fixing and repairing the bikes they get in. For example, they might have a bike with a rusted frame, but the tires could still be good and used on other bikes that need a new pair.

The most rewarding part of the volunteer experience for John is getting the bikes to a state where someone could use them again. He thinks about the people that might get the bike he’s working on, the use they’ll get out of it, and how much it might help them in their life. 

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