An Education Game-Changer: Pedaling Homework and School Supplies to Students Stuck at Home
  • Cascade’s Pedaling Relief Project is best known for its food bank deliveries, but it has also assisted schools by bringing classroom supplies to students learning from home.
  • “It’s been a game-changer.”

Pulling a bike trailer, Woody Sobey pedaled up to Seattle’s Graham Hill Elementary School with his 4-year-old daughter strapped into a child’s seat behind him. An educator and devoted community volunteer, he came to help deliver school supplies and classroom assignments to pupils stuck at home during the pandemic.

Call it volunteerism with a side of exercise and some father-daughter time outdoors. 

Cascade’s Pedaling Relief Project is best known for assisting food banks and their clients by collecting donated food and bicycling groceries directly to homes. The initiative has also put volunteers’ leg power to work for Seattle Public Schools by delivering books and homework to students learning from home during school closures.

Morgan Maki, whose daughter is a second-grader at Graham Hill Elementary, was excited to participate in the school delivery. “Bicycles have always been an important part of my social life, as well as my physical and mental health, so this seems like a great way to get involved,” he said.

Maki with his handmade bike and loaner Burley trailer.

On this day, the volunteers would deliver supplies to more than 60 students’ homes.

“A lot of our families can’t come to school to pick up supplies for their kids due to their work or other factors, so it has been super-helpful to have the help of the Pedaling Relief riders,” said Mary Beth McWhinney, an office assistant at Graham Hill Elementary. 

“The support from the bicyclists has been tremendous,” McWhinney added. “We had no idea how we would get all these supplies to the families initially. It’s been a game-changer.”

Maxwell Burton, manager of the Pedaling Relief Project, stood nearby with his bicycle and Burley bike trailer loaded with gear and bags to help Sobey, Maki and the other volunteers. He gave each volunteer rider a list of addresses for their deliveries, and he hitched up loaner Burley trailers to volunteers’ bikes. 

The trailers turn virtually any bike into a cargo bike ready to haul large items. The trailer brand Burley has supported the Pedaling Relief Project with donated and discounted utility trailers.  

Burton's bike and Burley trailer, which turns every bike into a cargo bike.

In addition to Graham Hill Elementary, the Pedaling Relief Project has done multiple deliveries for the Beacon Hill International Elementary School. In total, 67 volunteer riders have delivered supplies to 416 students at both schools since beginning the monthly school deliveries in September. 

Burton talks to McWhinney as they prepare for volunteers to arrive.

Maki, whose family moved to Seattle a little over a year ago, said that the pandemic had put the brakes on a lot of his family’s voluntary activities. “Now I’m vaccinated, so it feels like the right time to start getting out into the community more,” he said.

As more people get vaccinated and students return to school on a more regular basis, the need for these school supply deliveries will decrease but not go away. School officials told Burton that deliveries will still be needed for students who are immunocompromised, and for those with family members who have immune system health issues. 

Burton is looking for other opportunities to continue assisting schools with different types of bicycle deliveries, and he is working to expand Pedaling Relief volunteer bike rides to Tacoma, Spokane and other communities statewide.

As Sobey loaded bags of school supplies onto his trailer, his daughter, Avery, seemed to be enjoying the opportunity to ride with dad. She smiled shyly behind her mask and hewed to a strict no-comment policy when asked questions by a nosy blogger. She appeared to flash a thumbs-up sign as her dad pushed the loaded bike up to the street. 

Chilling while dad works, Avery gives the Pedaling Relief Project a thumbs up.

While Pedaling Relief Project volunteers are a diverse crowd, they share at least one trait: a belief in donating their time to help others. Sobey bakes bread for the Community Loaves initiative that distributes bread to food banks in Washington, Oregon, and Idaho. He also stocks a community pantry and refrigerator outside his home in Seattle’s Dunlap neighborhood with food for anyone who needs it. 

As Sobey and Avery pedaled away to deliver the classroom supplies, Burton helped other volunteers load up their bikes before riding away himself. He had to get to Seattle’s Beacon Hill neighborhood to support Cascade volunteers with some food bank deliveries there. All in a day’s work for Burton and the Pedaling Relief Project, which shows the power of bicycles to help solve community challenges and replace polluting motor vehicles with healthy, climate-friendly, urban transport.

Learn more about the Pedaling Relief Project and the 240,000 pounds of food and supplies it has delivered by bike over the past year. Donate to keep this project pedaling into the future. Contact Cascade at info@cascade.org if you would like to start a Pedaling Relief Project initiative in your community, or if you work for a service agency or nonprofit that needs bicycle-powered assistance.

Paul Tolmé's picture
Paul Tolmé