Riders line up along Garrison Ave., waiting for the starting horn for Cranksgiving.

Annual food drive still spirited despite COVID-19

The 5th annual Bronx Cranksgiving, a food drive described as part scavenger hunt and part bike ride, attracted more bikers than usual this year, drawing 62 participants compared with the 40–50 bikers who usually ride. Despite COVID-19 restrictions, the event, which was held on Nov. 14, was as lively as ever.

Tasked with riding around the Bronx to buy groceries for the food drive, the bikers set off from the courtyard of the Point Community Development Corporation on Garrison Avenue. Organizers dressed in turkey costumes, danced to loud music and applauded the cyclists as they unloaded their hauls when they returned several hours later. The bikers were offered mini bottles of coquito.

The items collected were donated to community organization Loving the Bronx and distributed to local families for Thanksgiving.

Cranksgiving began as a single event in Manhattan in 1999, which inspired hundreds more independently run Cranksgiving events held throughout the country every year in the run up to Thanksgiving.

Edmundo Martinez, 41 of Soundview, created the Bronx Cranksgiving in 2015 to make biking culture more accessible in the borough, where he says there is a lack of biking events and infrastructure.

At the annual event, organizers give cyclists a list of grocery items, along with a list of supermarkets across the Bronx. Riders are awarded points based on the items they buy, the markets they visit, and for taking pictures at local landmarks. Top point earners receive prizes, but most ride for fun, to give back to the community and to meet fellow cyclists.

Nathan Hunter, 29, participated in Cranksgiving for the first time, last year. He enjoyed the social aspect of the event, and remains friends with a few riders from the group he met and rode with last year.

But this year, safety measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19, including social distancing and face masks, meant less socializing for riders.

Organizers reduced the number of grocery stores bikers were asked to visit, replaced the yearly group photo of all participants to team photos in front of a backdrop and, most notably, did not organize the annual after-party, where riders would gather at a bar or restaurant to wait for results. This year, most riders dropped off their donations, stopped for some water and left within a few minutes.

For Hunter, the changes due to COVID-19 made it harder to connect with others this year, but he still accomplished his ultimate goal of donating to charity.

Martinez believes COVID-19 is partially responsible for the increased interest in the event and in biking. After seeing high pre-registration numbers and large numbers at the Brooklyn Cranksgiving, organizers had prepared for a crowd of more than 100, but ultimately saw a more modest increase.

Ingrid Doyle, a 63-year-old from Harlem, was one of those new riders. This year’s Cranksgiving was her first. She began riding and commuting by bike because of the pandemic.

“It was one thing to do when there’s nothing to do,” she said. 

Doyle rode with longtime friend Maudene Nelson, 71 of Yonkers, who had participated in Bronx Cranksgiving before, and Nelson’s 32-year-old daughter, Marlaina Headley.

The team cracked jokes at the idea of ending up top-place finishers.

“There’s no hope for points,” Nelson said. “It’s just golden to be out on a beautiful November day with the people I love most doing the activity I love almost as much.”