By Nona Tepper
On May 4, James Walker was named the surprise winner of a free bike from Ed's Way Food Mart, after he was called out for completing the annual Book-It reading challenge.
"He's been on honor roll since he was in third grade; he's an A average student," said mother Renea Walker.
This is the 14th year that Ed's Way, 946 Beloit Ave., has given a bike to a Field-Stevenson student who completed the Book-It reading program, which is sponsored by Pizza Hut and allows teachers to set monthly reading goals for their classrooms. Students who complete the program are awarded a free pizza from the fast-food chain.
But in Forest Park, they're also awarded a free bike and a picture on Ed's Way's hallowed walls. Walker, 11, and his mom visited Walmart on May 12, where he picked out a 24-inch, red, Next brand mountain bike valued at $100.
"He was fascinated by the fact that he can change speeds, and fascinated with how it's made," Renea Walker said.
The two turned in their coupon for the free bike on May 14, and the bike should be delivered sometime this week.
Walker said her son outgrew his current bike two years ago, after his knees started hitting the handlebars while he peddled, and he hasn't been able to ride since. When the two visited Walmart, she said, it took James a few tries to remember how to ride but, after circling the store a few times, he's ready to roll. Walker said her fifth-grader has already made plans to go downtown and ride along the Lake Shore Path. "I need to go ahead and get a new bike now so we can ride together," she said.
Mike Nutley, co-owner of Ed's Way, she noted, has already showed her son where his picture will be posted on the wall of the grocery store, which she estimates the family visits about three times a week. "I already knew about Ed's Way before we even moved to Forest Park," Walker said, adding that the family has lived in town for eight years. Although she knows all the employees, her favorite cashier is Karen because they share the same birthday.
"It's very friendly and the prices are great; they're just nice people," Walker said. "You're supposed to support your community, and they pour back into our community."
Nutley said he's happy to support a program that encourages children to read.
"We've got a lot of good kids in this neighborhood, and they deserve something nice," he said.
Formerly named White Way Foods, Ed's Way opened in 1991. It was used as a set during the filming of Sinister 2, a 2015 horror that grossed $54.1 million at the box office.