The "bike fairy" matches foster children near Orlando, Florida with bicycles, even if that means they take up her whole garage and living room.

To Kathy Downs of Orlando, Florida, learning to ride a bike is a childhood rite of passage. Bicycles are a path toward independence and wellness, as well as a vehicle, if you will, for communication. Downs, 57, and her two now-grown children used to talk through problems on rides together. “If you’re moving and you have to pay attention to what’s in front of you, kids feel a little freer to share,” says Downs.

Which is why, about two years ago, Downs became the Bike Fairy, supplying bicycles to foster children. Her mission began in spring 2017, while she was volunteering, through the Legal Aid Society of the Orange County Bar Association, as an advocate for children who’ve experienced abuse, abandonment, and neglect. A 9-year-old girl had gone to live with her grandmother, and Downs, assigned as her advocate, noticed that the bicycle in their garage was beat up. She posted on Nextdoor, asking if anyone in her neighborhood had a bike they’d be willing to donate. To her surprise, six different people offered one up.

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Downs, an accounting and finance recruiter, saw a bigger need. She placed those five extra bikes with other kids and offered to continue doing the service. The Legal Aid Society, which serves about 1,400 children monthly, started sending her requests. At the holidays, Downs hosted a bike drive, collecting and distributing roughly 200 bikes with helmets. “I had them in my dining room, I had them in my garage, in one of the bedrooms,” she says.

Downs doesn’t decide who gets a bike; that’s up to the Legal Aid Society. She just makes sure that when there is a need, there is a bike. She estimates some 1,500 bikes have passed through her hands. Bethanie Barber, the society’s guardian ad litem program director, gave Downs her Bike Fairy nickname. “Because of Kathy, our dependent children know they are loved, know they are valued, know they are deserving of the very best,” she says.