Angels on wheels

Cycling event raises more than $13,000 for Backpack Blessings program to feed hungry children

BIG RAPIDS — As soon as the snow melted and the weather was warm enough this year, Tom Mehl was riding his bicycle. At the beginning of the cycling season, he set a goal to reach 5,000 miles by the end of fall.

Earlier this summer, he surpassed his previous personal best of 3,300 miles. He continues to shatter his record with every revolution of his pedals.

On Saturday, Mehl set out to ride 100 miles in the Angels of Action’s first-ever Angel Ride. In doing so, he would meet his goal.

“If I can do the 100 miles, it will be my 5,000 for the season. It’s by far the most I’ve every done in a season,” Mehl said before he left Big Rapids headed for Farwell. “I really focused on (5,000 miles) this summer because I wanted to lose a lot of weight. I haven’t, but I enjoy riding my bike.”

Mehl was one of 117 riders who participated in the inaugural event, which raised more than $13,000. Proceeds from the event will benefit the nonprofit’s “Backpack Blessings” program, which provides food to children who may not have enough to eat on the weekend. Students who receive free or reduced breakfast and lunch through the schools are eligible for the program.

ANGEL RIDE: More than 115 bicycle riders participated in the first-ever Angel Ride. The up to 100-mile ride raised more than $13,000 for the Angels of Action’s Backpack Blessings program, which provides food to hungry children on weekends. (Pioneer photos/Jonathan Eppley)

The Angels will provide backpacks of food to 320 this year, with their first bags being delivered to children on Friday. Food is provided to children at Crossroads Charter Academy, Brookside, Riverview and the MOISD elementary schools in Big Rapids, as well as at Mecosta Elementary School on Mecosta County’s east side.

“This money will be used to go directly to the children and the program to increase our numbers,” said Angels co-founder Joni Thompson.

BIKE RIDE: More than 115 cyclists participated in the inaugural Angel Ride on Saturday. The event raised more than $13,000 for the Angels of Action’s Backpack Blessings program.

Cyclists who participated in the ride chose the distance they wanted to travel along the White Pine and Pere Marquette trails. The ride started early Saturday morning at Northend Riverside Park in Big Rapids and riders of all skill levels rode either 13 miles round-trip to Paris, 26 miles round-trip to Reed City, 52 miles round-trip to Evart or 100 miles to Farwell and back.

“We’ve got more than (115) riders who left Northend Riverside Park heading to various destinations, with about 33 of them doing the whole distance to Farwell and back,” said Angels board member Jennifer Hegenauer.

Scott and Jessica Morgan, who call themselves recreational bikers, set out to ride about 65 miles on Saturday. They raised about $100 for Angels of Action through the ride, which was their first time donating to the nonprofit.

“It’s very sad to consider that there are kids who don’t eat over the weekend,” Jessica said. “They rely so much on this food. This program is very important. … I can’t ever imagine not having anything to eat on the weekends.”

Not sure what to expect in the event’s first year, board members were very happy with the turnout and support from the community. About 40 volunteers helped coordinate the event, which was the brainchild of avid cyclists Sheri and Paul Strpko.

“Looking around and seeing all the riders, community members and people from all over the area, it was a great success,” said co-founder Julie Miller. “It seems like people have continued to support us and support the backpack program. We’re really happy to be able to increase our numbers this year.”

Sponsors for the ride include Edward Jones-Steve Miller, Big Rapids Products, Mecosta County Medical Center, Yoplait, Dr. Nevins Dentistry, Sparta Chevrolet, Evergreen Physical Therapy, Ice Mountain, Conference and Professional Services at Ferris State University and The Fitness Doctor.

For more information about Backpack Blessings, to donate money or make arrangements to donate food, contact Angels of Action at (231) 796-1626.

Visit the photo gallery to see more photos from the Angel Ride.

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Posted by Jonathan Eppley

Jonathan Eppley is news editor for the Pioneer. He designs and copy edits the Pioneer daily, and manages staff in the evening. Eppley joined the Pioneer staff in 2010. He can be reached at (231) 592-8357 or at jeppley@pioneergroup.com.

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