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Brea woman saves spare change to buy bikes for Marine families at Christmas

Penny Nelson wanted to do something nice for someone at Christmas.

Last year, she saved her change to buy a bike for a needy child. But when friends, family and her Bible study group heard what she was doing, that one bike turned into 40.

This year, they did it again. Today, the 65-year-old Brea homemaker handed over 76 bikes to the Marine Corps for families at Camp Pendleton.

“It’s really an outreach to say thank you for what they are doing for our country,” Nelson said.

Marine Sgt. Lauren Freudenburg was speechless this morning when she saw all the bikes stacked in boxes in Nelson’s yard.

“I don’t think there’s any words,” Freudenburg said. “We are very thankful for her helping out -- and the community helping her.”

Nelson was inspired by a story she read in the paper about a man who raised the money to buy a bike for a needy child by saving his change. By last Thanksgiving, she had saved $75, enough to buy a new bike and helmet at a Black Friday sale.

“I was so excited,” she said. “It was black, and it looked really sharp.”

Then she thought it would be nice to buy a girl’s bike too. Her husband, John, who served three years in the Marines, suggested they reach out to their Bible study group. Then their daughter, Rebecca, and family friends started raising money. Within four days, they had enough for 40 bikes. Wal-Mart of La Habra donated 40 helmets.

They were handed out last year at a Christmas party, where Marines were welcomed home from Iraq.

“The children of the Marines were just bowled over,” Nelson said. “We really felt that this was a blessing from God.”

This year, John and Penny Nelson both saved their change and raised $164. Friends and family contributed the rest. Wal-Mart of Brea gave them a 50% discount on the bikes and sold them the helmets at cost, Nelson said.

Freudenburg arrived this morning with a truck and three Marines to help load Nelson’s gifts. They will be distributed at a party Dec. 14 for 1,700 Marine families.

“I think she’s a blessing,” Freudenburg said.

-- Alexandra Zavis

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