Brennan Tate’s tennis shoes didn’t have spurs jangling from them, but he could probably feel the weight of them in his mind.

Saturday, the 7-year-old and avowed lover of all things cowboy swung his right leg over his new bicycle and rode his early Christmas gift through the lot at Waste Connections in Pflugerville, his red bike and almost-matching burnt orange hoodie obscured in a cloud of dust kicked up from the gravel lot.

Brennan’s mom, Jennifer Tate, said Brennan was just getting over a bout of walking pneumonia. Brennan has a disorder called mast cell disease that can trigger allergic reactions to almost anything at any time.

The bike looked like good medicine. A smiling Jennifer waited for her energetic son to complete his laps and load his new symbol of freedom into their car.

The Tates are part of the Statesman Season for Caring program, which highlights the needs of 12 families and helps hundreds of others through local nonprofit organizations. The Tates were nominated by SAFE Alliance.

As Brennan, age 7, raced his bike through the lot, his eyes set on the road and pastures beyond, several dozen Waste Connections employees, along with their spouses, continued to pull bicycles from cardboard boxes for assembly.

An employee tightening a seat to a small bike and another affixing tiny handlebars took a pause from their work to give their boss good-natured guff about his striking new mustache. Employees’ children scampered about like elves in Santa’s workshop.

The Waste Connections employees had arrived a couple of hours earlier on their off hours, one even arriving with family after a quick shower following his overnight shift, and had assembled close to 200 bikes that the company had purchased from partners like Walmart, Academy and Amazon.

Waste Connections could have purchased the bicycles preassembled, but the camaraderie around putting the gifts together has become a central part of this annual ritual of giving.

Each year, local Waste Connections employees donated money toward buying bikes for families served by local nonprofit organizations. The average bike costs about $60, and Waste Connections matches every dollar raised by its employees and funds contributed from its partners and vendors.

The national waste disposal company has participated in the charity bicycle drive for more almost 20 years; the Austin-area location has participated for all seven years of its existence.

The annual day of volunteering gives Waste Connection employees an opportunity for joyful team-building while contributing to the community they serve, said District Manager John Harris. The approximately 200 bikes from this location will add to a total of about 8,000 from Waste Connection outposts in 42 states.

“It’s a culture unlike any I’ve ever been a part of. It’s a real culture of giving, and we are able to leave an indelible thumbprint on the communities we serve,” said Harris, the new father decked out in soft reindeer antlers.

Waste Connection donated bikes to two Statesman Season for Caring families this year, its third year to participate in the program. The Haroun family, who emigrated from Iraq four years ago, also will receive bikes. The other bikes will be given to other charitable organizations like Blue Santa.

Harris says the event echoes one of the company’s core principles: “Do the right thing, whether anyone is looking or not.”

Division Vice President Chris Thomas, who says the Waste Connections employees around the country take it as an unofficial challenge to outdo do each other, acknowledges that the real satisfaction comes from the smiles they see on the kids’ faces when the bikes are delivered.

As a Waste Connections employee prepped fried catfish for po’ boys to celebrate a job well-done, Brennan Tate’s smile radiated across the entire lot, his eyes widening as he took in the expanse and all of the possibilities to the north.

"I’m not sure how I’m gonna keep up with him,” Jennifer Tate said with a matching smile.

The Tates still have some items on their wish list. They are working on moving into an apartment from the recreational vehicle they have been living in and need help with rent and furniture. Jennifer Tate's car repairs including fixing the air conditioning and new tires. She would also like to go school to get her teaching degree and would love airfare or flyer miles to visit her family in California.

To find out more about the Tate family or to give an item on the wish list, contact SAFE Alliance, 512-267-7233; safeaustin.org.


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