Bicycles and Bibles 2017

A child praying at Bicycles and Bibles 2017

Hurricane Harvey brought dark times to Southeast Texas. It affected families of every demographic and every socioeconomic status. But Saturday, Dec. 16, a shimmer of hope shined through the darkness for more than 1,000 families, a majority of whom were impacted by the storm in some form or fashion. 

In its 18th year, Bicycles and Bibles continued to bring Christmas to those less fortunate, and 2017, a year many would soon like to forget, was no exception.

The event reached more children than ever before, giving away around 1,050 bicycles. Planning, as usual, started early but was impacted by the hurricane, said Jon Reaud, executive director of the Reaud Family Foundation and brother of Bicycles and Bibles founder Wayne A.  Reaud. Jon usually begins planning the event in February, along with Cotton Cargo owner Robert Bertrand. It’s essential to begin early because, among other things, the event requires that 1,000-plus Mongoose bicycles be ordered from Academy.

Bertrand said that for the 2017 event, Academy brought in bike assemblers from as far away as California and put the bikes together in three days time.

Because of the storm, Jon Reaud said he had to make over 1,000 phone calls to families this year to make sure they were planning to attend Bicycles and Bibles.

“We called actually every single person on the list to verify their address,” Jon said. “We had over 3,000 applications this year. The school started a month behind, so that threw us a month behind schedule, so that’s another reason we called to find out how many were coming. We called and talked to the parents to make sure they got the invitation and if they are coming. … I don’t think any of us in Southeast Texas were not affected by Hurricane Harvey, so with a lot of people who had very little to begin with — after Harvey, they had absolutely nothing. So we definitely have not reached every child who lost everything, but we’ve tried our best to reach the children who need it the most. …This will be our 18th year, and we’ve tipped the 30,000 mark in 18 years. That’s a lot of kids.”

The idea behind the program came from Wayne A. Reaud, who wanted to give children a message of hope for the future, coupled with a day of fun in the Christmas spirit.

Reaud said he still remembers getting his first bicycle and thinks back to that time as a boy. He said as his life was blessed through the years, he wanted to give back and share that joy with others.

“My family wanted to share the blessings that God has bestowed upon us with others,” the Beaumont attorney and philanthropist said. “Trying to figure out a way to share those blessings spoke to my heart several years ago. I wanted to give children a new bicycle, to share something special with them from my past. And I wanted to give them a Bible because I believe that is where they will find the fundamental truth and a code to live by. So not only are we able to bring a smile to their faces with the gift of a bicycle, we are also able to give them a small introduction to the Lord Jesus Christ.”

Reaud said the idea of giving a children’s Bible – one very similar to the one he read as a child – came through the devotion to God that his mother had as he was growing up. Gena Reaud guided him and his brother Jon in the ways of the Lord and helped them learn to show compassion toward others.

The event is made possible not only through the Reaud Family’s generous donations but also from the kindness of other local families.

“This is not a government program. This is a program that has been put together through passion and love from many families that have come together to try to share the blessings that God has put upon them to share with you,” Jon told the families in attendance.

Like the Jon Werner family, providing soccer balls for the kids; the Glen Morgan family, with teddy bears; the Hubert Oxford III family, giving T-shirts; Dr. Rudy Sotolongo’s family supplying the candy; the Robert Bertrand family, beanies. Two new sponsors this year included the Beaumont Foundation of America, which provided tennis shoes for the children and the Jerry Nelson family, which provided hoodies.

“I’ve just always had a soft spot in my heart for little kids,” said Jerry Nelson, owner of Elise’s Family Fun Center, when asked why he decided to become a sponsor. Although this is his first year sponsoring the event, Nelson has volunteered at Bicycles and Bibles for several years.

This is Dr. Sotolongo’s second year as a sponsor.

“With Harvey, the whole event is even more special just because so many people have lost so much,” said Dr. Sotolongo’s daughter Gigi Mazzola. “We decided to become a part of Bicycles and Bibles because we’re blessed to be able to and because giving is the right thing to do especially this time of year.”

Gifts like these will likely be the only Christmas presents many attendees will receive. That’s true for the Hunt family of Port Neches, who had almost 2 feet of water in their home during Harvey and were deemed ineligible to receive assistance from FEMA.

“It doesn’t seem like a lot but, we’re right next to the Neches River, so when the water came up, it came up. We can’t afford anything now. We lost beds and clothes,” said Laura Hunt, grandmother of Daisy Hunt, 7. “This is their Christmas. What they get here and a little bit from the church we go to is going to make their Christmas.”

Daisy’s brother and sister also attended the event, but they weren’t old enough to be a Bicycles and Bibles recipient. The event targets kids from 6-12, but their families get to partake in a feast ranging from Little Caesar’s Pizza and Chick-fil-A sandwiches to Carlito’s burritos and ice cream from the Reaud Foundation Ice Cream Shoppe.

The event also helped families spared from Harvey’s wrath but who, regardless, needed the help, such as Carol Henry of Beaumont, who has 10 grandchildren, three of whom attended the event.

“It hurts my heart that I can’t afford to buy my grandbabies anything,” Henry said. “They are excited, and so am I. It’s really going to help me out.”

Around 300 volunteers were the muscle behind the event, including firefighters from Beaumont Professional Firefighters Local 399, who unload the bicycles and other gifts each year the Thursday prior to the event.

“(Bicycles and Bibles) is kind of an example of what’s happened to this community,” said Beaumont Fire Captain Brad Penisson, who also plays trombone in the Firehouse Band, which provides Christmas music for the event. “This community is so giving, and gives back even in times like Harvey. Our firefighters and first responders who were so active during Harvey, we saw what happened to so many people and so (this) is an opportunity for us to give back to our community.”

Hurricane Harvey affected not only the recipients of this year’s Bicycles and Bibles, but also the volunteers. But that didn’t stop families like the Allens from helping out at the event. Chris and Emily Allen, and their sons Aaron and Andrew, lost everything when their Pinewood home flooded.

“We averaged 67 inches,” Emily said. “We evacuated down the street to my parents and water started hitting them too, so we got an airboat ride out.”

The Allens ended up at their church, where they stayed 40 days and 40 nights.

The flood didn’t stop them from wanting to volunteer at the event like they do each year, it actually inspired them to want to even more, Emily said.

“We had people from across the country mucking our house, tearing stuff out for us, praying for us in the driveway, and bringing us stuff,” she said. “It was constantly hands out and hearts open. … There are people, even without a Hurricane Harvey, who have nothing. They don’t know when they’re going to eat again. … We are beyond blessed … and want our children to know the reason for living is giving. That’s what you do. You give and then it helps you put your priorities in line because when Harvey did that to us, life changed.”

The Lamar Cardinals football team under new head coach Mike Schultz turned out for Bicycles and Bibles for the first year in 2017, interacting with kids and making their Christmas.

“When I was hired to be the head football coach at Lamar University, I wanted the program to be more involved with the community. When Mr. Reaud asked us, we very much wanted to be involved,” said Schultz. “I didn’t know how big this event was until I saw it, and it was a phenomenal sight. For myself and the football players to see all the happy faces of all the children and families was a pure joy. What the Reaud Foundation does is really something special.”

“The families are so grateful for everything,” added Lamar football team captain Matthew Oubre. “With Harvey … some people don’t have anything right now, so seeing the joy on the kids’ faces, even some of the parents’ faces, just going around to interact with them, it makes their day that much better. … It’s such a great cause for kids that probably wouldn’t have a Christmas without this. It’s amazing just stepping back and looking at it.”

For the second year, the Nem Loof Clowns from the El Mina Shrine participated in the event, making balloon hats and swords for the kids. The YMBL also volunteered for the event for the third year.

“We feel like what they’re doing is good, especially with all the things that went on with the hurricane,” said Jimmy Ward, outgoing YMBL president. “Without them giving back to the community and doing what they’re doing, there would be a lot of kids who would go without.”

Along with all the goodies provided by family sponsors, children also receive coats, bicycles, locks and helmets for their bikes, wind suits, basketballs and footballs, and a Children’s Bible from the Reaud Foundation.

The Reaud family drives home the message of Christ at the event, reminding attendees what Christmas is truly all about. Every year, children are able to watch a puppet show that tells the story of Jesus’ birth, thanks to Pastor Craig Larson and his volunteer puppeteers from Power Castle Ministries.

“We probably have about 20 volunteers that are helping out today with the puppet show. The puppet show is just a great way to tell the true story of Christmas, which is about the birthday of Christ, the Son of God who is the savior,” Larson said.

It communicates the Gospel to children in a way that they can understand and that’s fun and entertaining, he said, adding “the message of Christ gives us hope for the future. When we have difficulties and tragedies in our lives like disasters and things like that, we learn that when we have Christ in our life, he can use those things for good in our lives.”

Families also received a special Christmas message from religious leaders Rick White, senior pastor of Christian Fellowship Church; Bishop Curtis Guillory of the Diocese of Beaumont and the Rev. John Adolph of Antioch Missionary Baptist Church.

“I saw the show of hands of how many of you were affected by floodwaters, but I’m here to tell you today, 2017 Bicycles and Bibles is the turnaround event for Southeast Texas. It’s going to get better today,” Pastor White said.

“A lot of us are continuing to live in the dark because of Hurricane Harvey. Because of the floodwaters many of you are probably not back to your homes. This is kind of a dark time that we’re going through right now … but remember Jesus is the light of the world,” added Bishop Guillory. “The light of Jesus comes to us through generous families like the Reauds and many other families who have given up their money and time to make these bibles and bikes possible for you, so that you might have a little love, a little joy and a little light in your heart.”

The true message of Bicycles and Bibles culminated when the Rev. Adolph took the stage holding what appeared to be a baby wrapped in swaddling clothes.

“I read a sign the other day that said Merry Xmas, and it hurt my feelings terribly. It’s because we’re so busy celebrating Xmas, we’ve left out the Christ of Christmas, and so this afternoon I’m holding a little baby and I want to introduce everybody to this little baby that I’m holding. He was born in Bethlehem. The Wise Men came from the east to bring him a special gift of gold, frankincense and myrrh. One star got excited when he was born and outshined all of the rest of the stars,” said Adolph, asking the multitude of children gathered on the floor to listen to his message to say Jesus when he held the baby up.

Adolph shared the story of the many miracles that Jesus performed in his short time on Earth including turning water into wine and healing the sick, lame, and blind.

“There was another man, he was blind. He couldn’t see at all. He was trying to make his way and the Bible says he came to Jesus and they said, ‘Who sinned this man or his parents?’ and Jesus said … I put this blind man here just for you to be able to know that God is the Glory and everyone knows a miracle. He was blind but the Lord Jesus spat on the ground, made some clay and then all of a sudden wiped it on his eyes and the Bible says he told this blind man go wash in the pool and he washed, he came back seeing. And when he could see, they said, ‘Who healed you? Are you sure it was Jesus?’ The man said, ‘I don’t know what you want to say about him, but what I know is this: I used to be blind, but meeting Jesus, I can see.’”

But Jesus didn’t come to Earth just to perform miracles, Adolph pointed out.

“He didn’t come just to do miracles only. Even though he did a lot of wonderful miracles,” Adolph said. “He was born to die. … He died because he loves you so much. … He knew the only way you could get to heaven was to have a sacrifice to please his God.

The real gift at Christmas is not the miracles that Jesus did. The real miracle at Christmas is the gift Jesus came to give and that gift is everlasting life.

The reason we are here today is because the Reauds taught their children about Jesus and even though you’ll have gifts from them, the greatest gift that you will ever receive in your lifetime doesn’t come under the tree, it comes from the tree.”

“It’s one thing to get a bicycle and a bunch of gifts … but I personally think the greatest gift in the world is the gift of Jesus Christ,” said Jon Reaud. “We believe that that is the greatest gift that we’ve ever received.”