Christmas comes early for lucky McKinley students

A few days before Christmas, 38 lucky students at McKinley Elementary School found themselves in possession of new bicycles, locks and helmets on Wednesday, compliments of Billings TrailNet.

“We build trails around town,” TrailNet event coordinator Kevin Odenthal told a gym full of kids Wednesday afternoon just before the giveaway. “We also want to make sure people have fun.”

This was the second such annual event sponsored by the nonprofit organization, whose mission is to promote a complete, community-wide trail system.

Last year’s beneficiaries were students at Orchard Elementary School, but when TrailNet Director Kristi Drake suggested coming back to Orchard this year, Drake said, the principal told her, “maybe it would be better to go to another school and share the love a little bit.”

That they did, choosing McKinley, where about 70 percent of the students are eligible for free or reduced-price lunches. This year, TrailNet managed to round up 38 bicycles, some of them used but refurbished, some of them new.

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Samaria Odom

Because there are 300 students at McKinley, school counselor Carolyn Yegen said, staff members selected children most in need and put their names in a drawing. Samaria Odom, a third-grader with cerebral palsy who uses a wheelchair and is unable to propel herself with her hands, was told she will be receiving an adaptive tricycle, which she will be able to pedal.

Samaria already had an adaptive tricycle she uses at school, so the new one, on order from an eBay seller, will be for home use. The seller promised it would be here by the end of the week.

“We’re going to deliver it on Christmas Day,” Drake said.

Odenthal said 40 to 45 TrailNet volunteers were involved in the project, including about 20 people who gathered to do tune-ups and make repairs to the bicycles. Last year, the volunteers met at Drake’s house and had to work outside in the cold.

This year, Mark and Tina Standish, owners of MTS Technologies, allowed the volunteers to gather in their heated shop.

“I’m so heartened by what our community does for our kids,” Drake said. “It’s just incredible.”

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