Ride Along: Leah Hollinsworth
Words and photos by Chris Lee
I first met Leah Hollinsworth a few years ago in Chicago, a couple days before the Stupor Bowl. I decided to meet her and a handful of other couriers in Chicago to ride the AmTrak to Minneapolis. What was supposed to be a 6-8 hour train ride turned into something like 14 hours because of winter blizzards and other mayhem that comes with obnoxious snow accumulation in the Midwest. Needless to say, I got to know Leah well during that train ride.
Fast forward to the first weekend of May, 2014: I just crossed over the border into Canada on my way to the 5th annual Mayday alleycat. Mayday is the biggest race that the Toronto courier community throws. It brings racers (courier or not) from all over Canada and even the United States. In addition and even more importantly, this race is a fundraiser for the Bike Messenger Emergency Fund, or BMEF for short. After the race and the parties were all said and done, I met up with Leah to talk a little about her involvement with the BMEF and the Mayday alleycat.
Okay lets start off with an introduction! Who are you and what is your involvement with the BMEF?
Leah: Hey! I’m Leah Hollinsworth. I’m the director of the Bike Messenger Emergency Fund. I’ve been the director for about 7 years and the fund has been in existence for coming on 15 years now.
What is the BMEF exactly?
Leah: The Bike Messenger Emergency Fund, or the BMEF, is a registered charity that helps out messengers that are injured while they’re working. If you’re a messenger anywhere in the world and you’re hurt while you’re working; either you’re hit by a car or have an accident and you’re gonna be out of work for more than 3 weeks; then we allocate a $500 check to the messenger to help pay their bills, to get medicine or food, and to help them get through the period when they’re not working.
Now what is the Mayday alleycat and what does it do for the BMEF?
Leah: Mayday is an alleycat that was started 5 years ago. The idea was thought up by a messenger who actually got hurt while she was working, collected an emergency check from the BMEF, and promised to help raise funds and awareness for the BMEF once she was back up on her bike. So she launched Mayday and this is the fifth year and its been almost doubling every year. And now this year, it looks like we’re gonna crest the $20,000 mark for the donation to the BMEF. So we’ve single handedly become the largest donor. And as a direct result of Mayday’s hard work, everyone’s amazing contributions and donations; we’ve been able to raise the amount that we pay to the messenger from $300 to $500, which happened last year.
From your own personal standpoint, why is the BMEF so important to you and other couriers?
Leah: I think its super important because so many of us live paycheck to paycheck. And most people who are bike messengers don’t have any sort of coverage as far as national health care. So when you get hurt, you have the injury which takes you out both mentally and physically; and then you also have the fact you’re not working. Many people lose their jobs if they’re not working because they’re pretty expendable at their companies. The emergency fund not only helps people to pay their bills, but it also helps their mental status because they know that someone’s got their back and are able to help them out. Thats important to me because I care about everybody and the mess community; and I just wanna make sure everyone is taken care of.
What are your future plans for raising awareness and expanding the BMEF?
Leah: Just in the past 4 months we’ve started merchandising. So we have hoodies, t shirts, patches, and hats. This helps us to raise awareness within our own community. And then outside of the community we’ve done a number of partnerships, and are continuing to do partnerships, with companies that see the benefit in helping messengers and donating some funds. We are looking forward to partnerships in the future with other companies who want to help!
For anyone who is interested in more information, who want to get involved or reach out, where can they go?
Leah: For sure! You can go to www.bicyclemessenger.org (thats the BMEF site). If you want to apply for the fund, there is a form you can fill out that will come directly to me. If you want to reach me directly, you can email me at [email protected]. There’s a Facebook group as well you can check out!
Anyone you wanna shout out?
Leah: Shout out to Lucas Brunelle! He’s the one I run the fund with. Shout out to all the people who help organize Mayday, all the people who come to Mayday, and all the people who are inspired by the work we are doing here and are choosing to do events in their own cities, and reach out to make the BMEF something that people are talking about. Thank you for everyone’s support!
Lastly, anything you want to add?
Leah: Just please help spread the word! Its really remarkable to me how many people message me who have not heard of the fund; People that are in cities where it would be silly that they wouldn’t have heard about it. If you know anybody, have friends in other countries, messengers in other countries that you know; PLEASE tell them about the fund. Let them know that we exist and that we will help any messenger, in any country and anywhere in the world, regardless of if they have insurance. We are here to help!!