NORTH HAVEN – Dan Perrotto has given away nearly 1,900 bikes to kids over the past 17 years. And every time he thinks about stopping, he changes his mind.
"My mother had a saying, ‘You have to give back. When you get, you give,’" he said. And those words have become the driving force that has guided him throughout his life.
"I’ve been blessed with a good family … good parents, a great wife, two daughters and four grandchildren," said the retired Yale University maintenance worker.
"This is something I always wanted to do," he said. "I always had dreams of helping kids, from supporting Toys for Tots to things I did with my own kids."
It all began when he decided to buy a bike for a neighborhood boy who lost his father at Christmas time. After buying a bike to console the boy, his passion to do the same for others ignited.
After initially using his own money, he began to accept donations from family members, friends, neighbors, local organizations and any other source that he could tap or that offered to help.
"At first, I did it all alone," he said. "But then I began soliciting funds and turned it into a foundation."
In 1996, he founded Bikes for Babes, a nonprofit foundation through which he purchases new bikes and raises funds to buy bikes for children in need.
"Every year, it’s gotten bigger and bigger," he said, with a tone of disbelief. "My wife (Angie) was always by my side. And it became very successful.
"Some companies buy me bikes, or people give them to me," he said. "And my friends from junior high, high school, the Army … when they think of it, they give me money. It’s something."
He gives away anywhere from one to 30 tricycles, 12-inch bikes with training wheels, 16-inch bikes with training wheels, and 20-inch bikes as well as bike helmets to kids and organizations that support children.
Recipients have included the the New Haven Boys and Girls Club, Ronald McDonald House, St. Francis Home for Children and the Farnam Neighborhood House, all in New Haven; Aces Temple Street School in North Haven; the Connecticut Department of Children and Families; Circle of Care Kids with Cancer; and several churches, schools and needy families in crisis in the New Haven area.
For his work, Mr. Perrotto was honored by the New Haven Boys and Girls Club Alumni Association. He was awarded the Unsung Hero Award by the Greater New Haven Community Foundation in 2006. In 2008, he was recognized by Gov. M. Jodi Rell with a proclamation for his foundation. In 2009, he was named "Citizen of the Year" by the Hamden/North Haven Elks. And in 2012, he was given the "Heroes Award" by the American Red Cross Connecticut Chapter for his impact on helping children in need – an award that was acknowledged by Gov. Dannel Malloy with a note of personal congratulations.
Last January, he was named a "Person of the Year" by the New Haven Register for his bicycle program.
In his spare time, Mr. Perrotto is involved in other ways in community and church activities. He chairs North Haven’s Inland Wetland Committee, is a member of the Montowese Fire Association and coaches the Max Sinoway Little League.
He is also a member of the St. Andrews Society in New Haven and the American Legion. And in 2003, his name was engraved on the Vietnam Memorial on the North Haven Town Green.
A member of St. Therese Parish, where he taught religious education for several years, he takes special pride in serving as an extraordinary minister of holy Communion for nearly 25 years – one of the longest serving members in the deanery.
His garage and the garage of one of his daughters are full of bikes. And despite an economy reluctant to improve, the checks for donations keep coming in.
For more information about Bikes for Babes or to make a donation, call Mr. Perrotto at 203-239-2143.