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North County volunteers repair bikes for refugees

Turmoil in the Middle East has brought hundreds of refugees to America. Some families came to San Diego with nothing but the clothes on their backs. KPBS North County reporter Tania Thorne tells us about a group of volunteers helping refugees in a unique way.

A group of volunteers in North County is helping those refugees in a unique way.

During the pandemic, the Stollmeyer family was looking for a way to give back to the community.

They used to own a bicycle store and when Elisa Stollmeyer stumbled onto the Facebook group, Helping El Cajon Refugees, she knew bike donations were their niche.

“As soon as this opportunity came up to help with repairing bikes, I knew that that was going to be our opportunity," she said. "So I pitched it to the boys and everyone was game, so I’m pretty excited about it.”

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The Stollmeyer family work on used bicycles outside of their San Marcos, Calif., home to later donate to refugee families. December 30, 2021.
Tania Thorne
The Stollmeyer family work on used bicycles outside of their San Marcos, Calif., home to later donate to refugee families. December 30, 2021.

Her two sons, Andrew and Kailan Stollmeyer spent their holiday break fixing used bikes they collected through donations.

“Why not do something I already love doing and give back to the community? Fixing old bikes that people threw away and giving them a second life and a second opportunity,” Andrew Stollmeyer said. “Especially in a place like this where people of less fortune who are coming to this place with nothing have … transportation. And for some of these, like the mountain bike, a way to have fun.”

The San Marcos family collects used bikes, repairs them, and then donates them to refugee families throughout San Diego. They also work with the Wrench House Cyclery in Vista for a discount on supplies.

“We take used bicycles, preferably in good condition so that the expense to fix them isn't greater than the value of the bike, but we also accept new bikes in boxes and we build those as well,” Elisa Stollmeyer said.

Last week, the family delivered two bicycles to a Syrian refugee family who arrived in Escondido three months ago. The family came with basically nothing.

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Kailan Stollmeyer said helping refugee families has been the highlight of his holiday break.

“I think it's really cool. We got to help and go carry some stuff in that a lot of people brought," he said. "The bike is another way to contribute and I think it's really cool. It's a special way to help everybody."

The refugee family of seven lives in a two-bedroom apartment that the Helping El Cajon Refugees Facebook group also helped furnish.

“This apartment came with a really small refrigerator and there's seven people in the family, teenagers and adults, so they can really use another refrigerator,” said Christine Filipovich, a donation volunteer and bike lead of the Facebook group.

She said refugee families are moving all over the county, not just El Cajon. But that is the place where a majority of the families have settled.

“We would love any donations for setting up a household that people can think of, all the way from bed frames to toys to couches,” she said. “Everything needs to be in really great condition. We would want something that you would give your best friend. Join the Facebook group and post a photo of the item you would like to donate and we’ll reach out to you through messenger.”

Filipovich said more families are arriving.

“The biggest group is coming next month. We have 56 families coming next month,” she said.

She said donations from the group will help the transition for many refugee families who are grateful to make America their new home.

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