AKRON, Ohio — Early Sunday morning, 13 semi-trucks accompanied by police cars with lightbars flashing, wove through the streets of Summit County heading for three locations where Elves & More of Northeast Ohio delivered free, brand-new bicycles to hundreds of children.

Now in its 15th year, nonprofit Elves & More is a well-oiled machine that springs into action once a year in the days before Christmas, the group said.

What You Need To Know

  • On Sunday morning, 13 semi-trucks drove to three Summit County neighborhoods to deliver 1,000 free bikes

  • Elves & More is a nonprofit that’s active once a year in the days leading up to Christmas when the bikes are built and delivered

  • XPO Logistics donates trucks and drivers for bike delivery on the big day and also transports the bikes from the West Coast to northeast Ohio

  • The Akron-based nonprofit spends about 95 cents of each dollar that’s donated on buying bikes

To ensure delivery day is a surprise and families are alerted only on that day by truck horns and intermittent police sirens, Elves & More changes the locations every year and keeps them secret, even from volunteers, until the morning of delivery.

This year, in two Akron neighborhoods and one in Cuyahoga Falls, the semi-trucks rolled in and framed three pre-determined intersections, opening their back doors to reveal 1,000 colorful, new bikes in several styles and sizes.

In Kenmore, where six of the semi-trucks were set up by 9 a.m., families began to emerge from their houses. One-by-one kids were assessed for height and directed to a bike of appropriate size, which they could simply pedal away.

It wasn’t long before word-of-mouth and social media kicked in, and a line formed down the block.

Elves & More founders Brian Miner and Tim House started the organization after learning about a man named David Moore in Houston, Texas who gave away 15,000 bikes.

But what struck the local men, Miner said, was a story Moore told about two young boys who stood at the perimeter of the delivery event, not riding their bikes. When they were asked why, the boys said they wanted to save the bikes for Christmas Day because they had never before received a Christmas gift.

“So you know, that story is not unique to Houston, Texas. That story can be found in Akron, that story can be found in Canton, that story can be found in Cleveland,” Miner said.

Elves & More was founded to eliminate stories like that, he said.

Each year, to build the bikes, volunteers gather the day before the event at a secret location, he said. This year, 500 volunteers built 1,000 bikes in three hours.

Josh Troche has volunteered for Elves & More since the group’s second year in operation, first building bikes and later creating videos that capture the delight and surprise on the faces of kids and parents on delivery day, he said.

“When you see the impact that it can have, just the kids’ faces light up because what kid doesn't want a bike for Christmas?” he said.

Troche has also witnessed relief on the faces of some parents.

“You can just tell this is all their kid is getting for Christmas, and you can see that the parent is relieved and happy,” he said.

But Elves & More is about much more than new bikes, he said.

“When you realize that this kid now has the ability to get to after school activities, to get to other activities, and on top of that, you don't see kids riding bicycles on bad streets,” he said. “So if we can get kids out in the neighborhoods, that helps to make sure that neighborhood feels safer. And so, it's not just giving a kid a bike, it really is transforming that neighborhood.”

As the organization and number of bikes has grown, so has the need for trucking services, which is donated each year by XPO Logistics, Miner said.

Not only does XPO provide delivery capabilities on the big day, the trucking company also transports the bikes in boxes across the country from the West Coast to northeast Ohio, he said.

“Today, we're using 13 semis plus drivers so consider the amount of money that is sitting out there in that parking lot,” Miner said. “And that expertise that they've graciously donated to us. That's a huge benefit for the organization.”

Elves & More also accepts donation throughout the year, and is set up so about 95 cents of each dollar donated goes toward buying bikes, he said.

Many of the volunteers are members of local law enforcement agencies who often know the personal stories of residents, and can help direct giving to those most in need, he said.

The Elves & More delivery event is also a great way to get police into the neighborhoods for something other than crime, Troche said.

 “To meet people and talk to people on a positive note, like, ‘Hey, here's a bike’ rather than something negative, so it's a great thing for them,” he said.

Visit the website to learn more about Elves & More of Northeast Ohio.