ROSLINDALE — Alan Wright is no longer surprised when he finds an odd bike or two lying in his backyard; people drop them off knowing that he’ll get the machines new homes with recent refugees from around the world.
Wright estimates he and other members of the bicycling club Rozzie Bikes — working with the refugee relocation agency International Institute of New England — have delivered 95 bikes to people who’ve wound up in the Boston area from places including Afghanistan, the Central African Republic, Congo, Eritrea, Somalia, South Sudan, Syria, and Yemen. That’s since the winter of 2022.
Because housing is expensive and scarce in Boston, the refugees often are resettled far from the city in areas with fewer public transportation options — everywhere from Brockton to Taunton to Lynn to New Bedford — which makes having a bike extremely helpful, Wright said. It makes it easier to get to appointments, to English classes, to grocery stores, to jobs, and just to get out and see their new country, he said.
“Refugees are trying to figure out how to maneuver in this very baffling country, and bicycles are one of the pieces to help them; it can be a lifesaver,’’ he said.
“These people have come out of traumatized situations, they don’t know anybody. They have all said that other than going to an English class or a job interview, they are sitting around in their apartments and feeling isolated and don’t know what to do. They want to get out and explore — and a bike makes it much more possible,’’ he added.
Just a few weeks ago, Wright loaded four bikes — along with donated helmets, locks, and lights — onto a trailer attached to his electric cargo bike and rode to an apartment in Mattapan where four refugees eagerly awaited them.
When Wright came back a week later to fix a flat tire, the men had already ridden around their neighborhood, and used their bikes to get to work and appointments.
Earlier this year, Wright and a friend brought a dozen bicycles, helmets, locks, and lights to a community center in Brockton for a group of refugees — and on the way, stopped in Bridgewater to drop off bikes for two refugee sisters.
“And I am not the only one doing this,’’ said Wright, who retired from a job in public health four years ago and volunteers his time. “I was at a League of American Bicyclists training course in Worcester’’ this spring. “There were 13 of us in the class and all 13were doing something similar.’’
One of those people was Phil Posner of Concord, a lawyer and board member of The Bike Connector, a nonprofit shop in Lowell that gets bikes to needy people — and last year gave away almost 1,500 bikes, many to refugees.
In fact, there are bikes-for-refugees programs across the US and the world — from Arizona to Oregon, as well as England, Finland, Ireland, and Australia.
Posner first heard about the refugees’ need for bikes from a friend who is a member of the Walnut Street Minyan in Newton, a Jewish group helping Afghani refugees. Posner then connected with a Unitarian congregation in Dover that was looking for bikes for refugees from Afghanistan, Ukraine, and Venezuela.
“The people were in lots of different circumstances, but the common thing was they all had very little money and were in need of transportation. And they all knew how to ride bikes,’’ Posner said.
For Posner, getting bikes to refugees was immensely gratifying personally — both because he is passionate about bicycling and because he could see the impact on the refugees’ lives.
“Imagine the trauma of being uprooted from your home, ending up halfway across the world, with very little money, and maybe you don’t speak the language,’’ Posner said. “To get something that puts power back in your hands is very liberating.’’
“It helps me a lot,’’ said bike recipient Bashir, a 32-year-old from Somalia who arrived in Boston in March after 15 years in a refugee camp in Ethiopia. Before he received a bike from Wright, Bashir walked 3 or 4 miles to go food shopping. “Now I take my bike and get there quickly. And it makes it easier to get places on time,’’ he said.
Bashir, who hopes to become a truck driver and then a businessman to earn enough money to bring his mother and five siblings to America, lives in Mattapan with three other men — refugees from the Republic of Central Africa, Yemen, and Afghanistan — who have no common language. “We use Google Translate mostly; it’s a little bit challenging, but we manage,’’ Bashir said.
But they all now have bikes and every weekend they “go somewhere new,’’ Bashir said. “I am thankful to everyone who helped us get these bikes, particularly Mr. Alan, who always comes when there is a problem,’’ he said.
Wright recently took the men on a ride along the Neponset River path to Pope John Paul Park in Dorchester.
“They loved it,’’ he said, adding that he gets great satisfaction out of helping and being around the immigrants. “They exude so much enthusiasm and happiness in their eagerness to build new lives and help their missing families.’’
One of the spinoffs of collecting donated bikes for refugees is that Wright and Rozzie Bikes have accumulated a lot of children’s bikes that they have distributed at two housing projects in Roslindale, where they also hold bike repair clinics and teach kids how to ride.
Wright said he is running low on helmets, though, and always needs more parts and supplies.