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For the 12th straight year, a group of local mountain bike enthusiasts helped brighten the holidays for area military families Saturday by giving away 120 bicycles and helmets through its Christmas Bikes 4 Kids program.

Members of the Village Dirtbags gifted the bikes and safety accessories to children whose families are stationed at Vandenberg Air Force Base. The giveaway event took place Saturday morning at Bicycles Unlimited, a Lompoc bike shop.

“We look forward to it every year,” Roger McConnell, a member of the Dirtbags, said of the annual holiday event. “(It’s) our way of saying thank you to those that put themselves in harm’s way to defend our many freedoms. As the saying goes, ‘Freedom is not free.’”

The members of the Dirtbags raised the money for the bicycles and then worked with VAFB’s Airmen and Readiness Center, which identified the children who would ultimately receive the bicycles. Typically, children from families facing hardship are selected.

Joining the Dirtbags and families at the giveaway on Saturday were officers from VAFB, including Col. Michael Hough, the commander of the 30th Space Wing.

McConnell noted that Master Sgt. Glenn Walter, who is the Dirtbags’ main contact with the base, told him that “he has been stationed at five different bases during his career and, by far, the Lompoc community outreach to this base far surpassed any community outreach at the other four bases.”

“I like to think our Christmas Bikes for VAFB Kids (event) is an important part of that outreach,” McConnell said.

The event has grown significantly since beginning in 2006. At the first giveaway, just 12 bikes were handed out. The totals from the last several years have topped 100, however.

Anyone who would like to donate to sponsor a bike or helmet for next year’s event can do so by sending a check — this year, one bike and one helmet totaled $175 — made out to “Bikes for VAFB Kids” to the Village Dirtbags at 1201 E. Ocean Ave., Suite K, Lompoc, CA 93436.

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This report has been compiled by Willis Jacobson. He can be reached at wjacobson@leecentralcoastnews.com.

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