The men had returned to the tent they pitched on the empty lot on Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd by the time the afternoon heat set in.
It was hot for mid-October, and they had been out all morning picking up litter from the streets. But the members of Pythian Senior Lodge #77 were in good spirits, gathering in the shade to chat and catch up over broken bicycles and crackers.
“Every year we participate in National Pythian Volunteer Day, which is the same day as National Make a Difference Day, which is a day when people volunteer in communities,” said Clarence Monette, the organization’s records keeper. “We start at 9 in the morning… to pick up litter, clean up the community.”
Along with street cleanup, the Pythians repair children’s bicycles. Over time, Vice Chancellor Commander Frankie Fennell Sr. said, the day has not only given the men the opportunity to serve their community, but to reflect on how it has changed over the years.
“What we see a lot is people leave St. Joe, for college or whatever, and then in 20 years, they come back,” he said. “There aren’t many places left where you can find this... It’s important to preserve it the best we can.”
There are more people moving to the area, Fennell reflected, but he and the Knights of Pythias are determined to make sure that a growing Gulf County still maintains its small-town, community-based appeal.
Hunched over a blue mountain bike, Monette considered the organization’s role in helping him connect with the North Port St. Joe neighborhood where he has lived for most of his life.
The Knights of Pythias donate more than 100 bicycles to children every holiday season in Port St. Joe and Wewahitchka who could not otherwise afford them including some of the bikes they were repairing on Saturday. Monette said it is a service he and the other Pythians are proud to provide for the community.
“There’s nothing like waking up Christmas morning and having a new bike,” he said. “And everyone should get to have that feeling… and we’re here today to make sure those bikes continue to run.”
Through the afternoon, community members would stop by to strike up a conversation or donate money to the Knights of Pythias’ Bikes for Boys and Girls fundraiser.
By the end of the afternoon, the Knights of Pythais and other volunteers had cleaned several city streets and garbage bags piled up on the empty lot. The men had replaced chains and pedals on five bicycles. Monette said the day had been a great success, and the Pythians look forward to Volunteer Day next year.
If you would like to donate to the Bikes for Boys and Girls program, please contact Monette at [email protected] or by mail at P.O. Box 731 Port St. Joe, FL 32457.
Make your check or money order payable to Driesbach Lodge #77 KP with the memo: Bikes for Boys & Girls. All donations are tax deductible.