Sheehan arrived at Howard Middle Monday morning on the back of a fire truck, which followed a procession of Orlando police on horseback and other emergency vehicles.
Maricruz Cruz, whose 6-year-old son Ian OrtizCruz was gifted a new bike, said the program means a lot to her because she wouldn’t be able to buy him such a gift.
“We can’t afford it,” Cruz said. “… It’s something to keep him busy. That’s what he needs.”
She recalled the feeling of “liberty” that came with getting her first bicycle as a child. She wants her son to experience the same feeling, she said.
“It’s scary because you don’t know what’s going [through] his mind, he can be lost, but… at the same time, he needs that freedom,” Cruz said.
Clad in a Santa hat and red blazer with Christmas trees on it, Sheehan boomed over the speaker, calling out the names of each child who would be receiving a new bike. She said their smiling faces as they stepped up to claim their gifts were her favorite part.
“I’ve seen a lot of these kids grow up in this program,” she said. “… Every investment that you make in these children are returned tenfold.”
In the 18 years since she started the program, Sheehan has distributed more than 1,100 bikes. They arrive on distribution day individually addressed to each child, a tag with their name on it hanging from the handlebars.
“It never gets old for me. I always cry every time I do this,” she said as the crowd dispersed and kids rode off on their new wheels. “This is Christmas for me.”