Connecticut Couple Crusades for Bike Safety

Hometown Heroes, People
on February 23, 2008

For kids on bicycles, riding the streets is a lot safer than it used to be in Stamford, Conn., thanks to Glenn and Peggy Coppola.

Since 1995, the Coppolas have given away more than 24,000 free bicycle helmets to local children. The couples mission was launched after their only child, 8-year-old Timothy, collided on a bicycle with a neighbors car in a cul-de-sac only 100 feet away from his home. Timothy, on his friends bike without his helmet, suffered a permanent brain injury and died 22 months later.

Its the only time we can ever recall him riding without a helmet, says Peggy Coppola, 62, who started the annual helmet giveaway with her husband, Glenn, the year after Timothys death. Glenn, 55, a 30-year-veteran of the Stamford police department, enlisted the help of his fellow officers for the project.

Weve been partners right from the beginning, says Joe Kennedy, president of the Stamford Police Association, which provides volunteers and donates about half the costs of purchasing helmets for the Timothy Coppola Memorial Bicycle Helmet Giveaway.

Research has proven that wearing a helmet can reduce the risk of a head injury by 85 percent, says Kathy Hoffman, bicycle safety coordinator for Bell Sports, a leading manufacturer of biking helmets.

The helmet giveaway is held each year just prior to Mothers Day, to direct public awareness to the importance of wearing bike helmets as the biking season begins, says Peggy, who recently retired after working for 38 years as a registered nurse. This years event is scheduled May 3 at Stamford Hospitals Tully Health Center, where hundreds of kids and young teens will line up to choose helmets and be measured for a proper fit.

The Coppolas have transformed the heartache of their own loss into a joyous event for the entire community. So many people have participated right from the very beginning, says Mary Maher, 64, Peggys sister and fellow Stamford resident. The police officers do the hardest worksetting up, unpacking 2,000 helmets, and then breaking it down. Everyone does whatevers needed, from crowd control to measuring heads.

Each childs head is measured with a piece of string, explains Peggy. Theyre then given a piece of paper with the size before moving on to the helmet display of styles and colors. Once a helmet is selected, volunteers create a custom fit with Velcro pads and make final adjustments. Afterward, everyone picks up free bike-safety handouts, coloring books, yo-yos, drinks, snacks and other giveaways.

I organize the snacks and hand them out to everybody, says Quinn Foley, 13, of nearby Fairfield, whos been a volunteer since she was 6. Working the event over the years has had a profound effect on Quinn and her friends, especially when they ride their bikes. We always wear our helmets, she says.

Stamford Elks Lodge 899 and local businesses donate money to buy helmets, office supplies, doughnuts, deli lunches, snacks and T-shirts for volunteers. Regional newspapers and radio and television stations carry stories. Some 10,000 flyers are distributed to Stamford middle and elementary schools and youth centers.

About 120 volunteers are needed for the different stations, says Melodye Colucci-Stackpole, 39, of nearby Fairfield, who first volunteered for a giveaway eight years ago and has participated each year since. Peggy and Glenn have such a passion for this, working with them makes you develop that passion, too.

The Coppolas have been honored and recognized over the years with awards, citations and badges from the mayor, governor and police association. But the real reward, Glenn says, is hearing back from very grateful parents whose children had accidents and were wearing a helmet.

Because of Timmy and the program, adds Peggy, we know that we have saved at least one child. And even if it was only one child, it was worth it.