PALMER — David O’Neil rides his bike to work from his house near Maud road; that was until it was stolen at the new Fred Meyer Marketplace on Nov. 30, the day of the 7.0 earthquake. On Saturday, Dec. 22, he picked up his new bike at Backcountry Bike and Ski after his neighbors and people from across the Mat-Su Valley donated $1,550.
“It’s so overwhelming and it’s heartwarming. It makes me proud of my neighborhood,” O’Neil’s friend Nicole Baum said.
Baum said that she posted a fundraiser on her neighborhood’s Facebook page and within an hour, people promised $1,200.
“It just blew up,” Baum said.
She said that within 48 hours, the fund had $1,000 in donations. She set up an account for O’Neil at Back Country Bike and Ski.
“I just came up with the idea; that’s it,” Baum said.
O’Neil said he felt bad about taking money, but Baum reassured him it was a good thing and not to worry.
“It’s more about people having an opportunity to help somebody,” Baum said.
O’Neil said that he was getting food and supplies the day of the earthquake. He said that the tremors woke him up. He peddled down to the new Fred Meyer Marketplace and parked his bike in a rack. He recalled seeing a lot of people at Fred Meyer that day, thinking that someone would notice his bike being stolen.
“I knew it was going to be hectic,” O’Neil said.
O’Neil said this wasn’t the first time someone has stolen his bicycle. He said that he had a cheap one from Walmart that was stolen from a bike rack at old location of the Fred Meyer Marketplace, where U-Haul is now. He said the bike this time was a more expensive mountain bike.
“It was really nice,” O’Neill said.
O’Neil admitted that he didn’t use a bike lock on either occasion. He has two new bike locks now. Baum gave O’Neil a stern look with a smirk.
“Oh he’ll be using a lock now, won’t you David?” Baum said.
Baum has known O’Neil for two years. She said that she sees him biking around regularly and occasionally picks him up. Baum waited with O’Neil while he was waiting for his bike to be assembled by the Backcountry staff. She gave him a big hug, saying that she was so happy for him.
“She’s just a really nice person that sometimes picks me up,” O’Neil said.
O’Neil works at Alaska Automotive, located just after the George Palmer Memorial Bridge, near Bushes Bunches. He was wearing a bright orange and yellow reflective jacket. He said that his first boss gave it to him before he retired because he knew that he was riding his bike to work regularly. He said that his colleagues are his favorite part of the job. He said that they’re nice and they all have a laid back sense of humor.
“They’re good people,” O’Neil said.
Anthony Berberich owns Backcountry Bike and Ski with his wife Julie. He said O’Neil’s story was one of the most special things he’s ever seen. He said that he was amazed by how many people came in to the shop to donate to O’Neil’s account.
“People get stuff for Christmas, but I think this says something about the community,” Berberich said.
Berberich said that one manager, Brandon Thielke donated a rear carrier rack for O’Neil’s bike. That will help him carry his backpack and other items when he hauls supplies from town.
“He’s going to be dialed in now,” Berberich said.
After purchasing the bike with all the add-ons and accessories, there was still $600 left on his account. Berberich said that O’Neil will be set for about 10 years, able to pop in for regular tune ups and pick up just about anything he needs to maintain his bike. He will also get free service for the first three years.
O’Neil seemed very happy with his new, red mountain bike.
“I think this is amazing. I do like the bike,” O’Neil said. “I think I’ll test drive it home.”
And he did just that. Wearing a new helmet purchased from his account, he peddled down Arctic Avenue towards Butte. Baum’s eyes glistened as she watched O’Neil disappear into the distance.
“I hope he makes it home OK,” Baum said. “I worry about that boy.”
Contact Mat-Su Valley Frontiersman reporter Jacob Mann at firstname.lastname@example.org