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story.lead_photo.caption The California Eagles Aerie 4027 donated 14 new bicycles to the local Angel Tree program for the 2018 holiday season, despite losing its inventory of fixer-upper bicycles in the July fire that claimed the club's building. (Photo courtesy of Melvin Butler)

As a way to keep children active while offering a sense of independence, for many people having one's own bicycle is a right of passage.

Thanks to Eagles members and supporters, 14 children in the Moniteau County area will receive their own new bicycle.

This is the third Christmas the California Eagles Aerie 4027 has donated bicycles to the Angel Tree program, coordinated by Central Missouri Community Action.

However, it is the first time so many new bicycles were given.

In 2016, 17 bicycles were donated and only two were new. Then, in 2017, nearly two dozen bicycles were fixed up, with only four new donated.

Melvin Butler started the project with donated used bicycles, which he fixed up in the attic of the former Eagles club.

The bicycle donations were plentiful toward his project. Unfortunately, 41 were lost in the July fire that claimed the club building. And, without a location, Butler said he was unable to hold the annual pitch tournament fundraiser, too.

Regardless, Butler said he wanted to collect 10 bicycles this year. Because of the donations from more than a dozen Eagles members and friends, that number turned out to be 14.

"People stepped up," he said. "It's about the kids. (I think) they believe in what I believe in — helping people and keeping kids active."

Stefani Thompson, community organizer for the community action organization, agreed the gift of a bicycle will encourage children to be healthier and to enjoy safe places like Proctor Park.

"This will allow children who may need to access places like the library who do not have transportation," Thompson said. "CMCA is very appreciative of the donation that Eagles has provided from year to year, as bikes are not always something that is purchased when children are adopted."

She continued: "Despite the fire, this shows that Eagles is dedicated to helping the children in the community, as well as keeping a partnership with CMCA. California has a lot of people who have dedicated their time, money, resources and commitment to helping families have a Christmas this season, and we are grateful for everyone who has played a part in making this happen no matter how big or small!"