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St. Louis Bicyclists Make No Turkey Out Of 'Cranksgiving' Bike Ride & Food Drive

Bicyclist Phil Leachman donned turkey attire for Sunday's ninth annual Cranksgiving bike ride and food drive in Maplewood.
Stephanie Lecci

Bicycles, tricycles, recumbent cycles and tandems were lined up on the street in front of Schlafly Bottleworks in Maplewood on Sunday, but the sight of a man dressed helmet-to-pedal in a turkey costume made it obvious this wasn't a typical bike race.

Rather it was the ninth annual St. Louis "Cranksgiving" bike ride and food drive, sponsored by St. Louis BWorks. The non-profit offers free classes to help children learn about and earn a bicycle or a computer. 

During the yearly event, bicyclists ride five-to-25-mile courses from one local grocery store to another, buying canned food to donate along the way. According to organizers, the St. Louis event is the largest of its kind in the country.

BWorks board president Wilma Schmitz shows off the special Cranksgiving trophies created from old food cans and bicycling awards.
Stephanie Lecci

"For many people, this is the end of the cycling season...so it's a good way to finish up the season," said BWorks board president Wilma Schmitz. "It's not a race. Families come out and buddies come out and they just have a good time. It’s just a good ride."

Cranksgiving riders Cindi Inman and Susan Kubinak may have run afoul of the non-competitive nature of the Thanksgiving-themed event, joking they might "throw some elbows" to collect more cans of food than other riders. Indeed, shiny bicycling trophies modified to include food cans were at stake.

But for Inman, the event did make a serious point.

"It shows that we’re a really generous group, a very compassionate, and a tight group really," Inman said. 

A bicyclist makes her helmet look like a cooked turkey at Sunday's Cranksgiving event.
Stephanie Lecci

The ride also gave bicyclists an opportunity to show others that they are part of the neighborhood, said IlkerTunay. He rode a tandem bicycle with his seasoned Cranksgiving partner, seven-year-old daughter Ayla.

"At the grocery stores, people see us doing something good for the community," the elder Tunay said. "That’s a plus for all the bicycling community here, because we commute by bicycle. We want cars to respect us and mutually we want to respect cars, and also it feels good to give food to people who need it in this holiday season."

That need is the central thrust of the event, organizers said. For the last nine years, St. Louis' Cranksgiving has benefited the nonprofit Food Outreach, which provides nutritional support to HIV/AIDS and cancer patients. 

According to director of development Becky Reichardt, the organization spends more than a half million dollars on food alone for its clients, who struggle with both their illnesses and their medical bills. 

"We've never turned away a client, and to be able to continue to do that, with an increase of need, about 11 percent that we're experiencing this year, we need fundraisers like this," Reichardt said. "It’s important when (riders) go out, they realize the cost of a can for a person who is already battling an illness - it may seem small to them - but that person is overwhelmed."

Last year's Cranksgiving collected 8,256 food items and raised $5,162 in cash donations, according to BWorks.

While the event has a serious impact, there were plenty of lighter moments throughout the day. BWorks board member Steve Kelly said he and his father, John, hoped to buy enough donations to make his son Aiden's bike tip over.

Then, of course, there was Phil Leachman's aforementioned tail-feathered attire.

(Left to right) Tim Block pulls Gabe, while Sophie, Tyler, Kelly and Dan Seim follow. The Block and Seim families, neighbors in Oakville, wore matching stuffed turkeys.
Stephanie Lecci

"BWorks...has just been a terrific group to work and volunteer with occasionally," he said. "It's just an awesome day, and an excuse to be in a turkey suit riding a bicycle around St. Louis."

But Leachman wasn't alone in his plumage. One cyclist fashioned a Thanksgiving-themed plate to her helmet; another wore a fake cooked turkey atop her head. All the members of the Block and Seim families of Oakville rode with stuffed turkeys strapped to their helmets.

The costumed company did lead Leachman to wonder: "What is the group term for how turkeys travel together?"

The answer to that turkey trivia? A rafter.

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