Coming together in the spirit of giving
Our society is a diverse society. Not everyone is just like you. Not everyone thinks like you, or acts like you, or looks like you. Oftentimes, the way people look incorrectly informs our assumptions about their character. Everyone is familiar with the stereotypes of the golden-grilled street rapper, or the insanely-inked tattoo enthusiast, or the rough-and-tumble bad-boy biker. But, just like you, they are a part of our society; just like you, they have a stake in our community; and just like you, they work towards the betterment of that community. And although you may not look, act, or think like Jon Box, or Ashley Sornburger, or Chad Zaczyk, perhaps – just perhaps – if you did, there would be far more great works for our society to point to with pride.
“I was born here to a single mother,” said Chad Zaczyk. “I’m an assembler at General Electric.”
Chad’s a stocky guy in his late 30s; his bald-shaven head, brown goatee, and thick-gauge pointy-studded metal earrings attest to the humble and hard-working background that personifies much of Erie’s population.
“I’m also a motorcycle enthusiast,” he said – although he didn’t really need to say it.
Motorcycle enthusiasts – more commonly known as bikers – are often immediately identifiable, and Chad is no exception. His trademark black leather vest, adorned with colorful patches screams Biker! whether you see him, or any of his fellow bikers, actually sitting on a bike or not.
At first glance, Chad and his cohorts look like trouble – people not to be crossed, harassed, or otherwise displeased. You might try to avoid people like Chad in your corner bar or neighborhood bowling alley based on their looks alone; but if you did, you’d never get the chance to talk to this affable, laid-back husband and father who is also the president of an Erie County motorcycle club known by the acronym of “BACA.” What, you ask, does “BACA” stand for?
“Bikers Angrily Crushing All?” Nope.
“Bikers Advancing Chaotic Anarchy?” Nope.
BACA is not what you might think it is – a biker gang hell-bent on mayhem and destruction, akin to the unfair and unfortunate stereotypes perpetuated by actors like Marlon Brando in the 1953 movie “The Wild One.” Bikers Against Child Abuse was founded in Erie during 2009 and currently boasts almost 30 members. “The difference between us and a typical motorcycle club is that you don’t have to have a motorcycle to be a member of BACA,” said Chad. “We have four members who do not ride. They’re just passionate about what we stand for, and they want to volunteer their time.”
According to its website, BACA “strives to create a safer environment for all children who have been neglected or abused by providing physical and emotional support for both the child and the family.” Members of the organization work with both local and state agencies that serve abused children, and relentlessly fight to prevent child abuse before it begins.
“I’ve seen the aftereffects firsthand, and it’s something you feel you can’t do anything about,” Chad said. “Being a motorcycle enthusiast, I heard about BACA and decided that Erie could benefit from a chapter.”
Indeed, BACA is not your typical “biker gang.”
“It’s a pretty diverse group. I think our oldest member is in their early 60s, and our youngest member is maybe 28,” Chad said. “Salesmen, laborers, retired schoolteachers – all walks of life.”
Chad’s diverse group is active year-round; he recounted a heartwarming incident that took place just this past July.
“There’s a camp down in Titusville. We rode down,” he said. “There’s probably 60 kids down there, and we let them on the bikes, to beep the horns and rev the motors. They just had a blast. Afterwards, we were serving hot dogs and stuff like that. I remember I was standing there, and a couple of kids came up to us and asked us if they could cook us hot dogs. That was pretty cool.”
During the holiday season BACA shifts gears; its mission statement demands accelerated efforts, and accordingly, BACA members took the lead in organizing more than a dozen like-minded organizations who all came together in the clutch and contributed to this year’s “Bikers of Erie County Toy Drive,” which ended last week.
“We contacted different motorcycle clubs, riding clubs, and motorcycle associations in Erie County to see if they wanted to join us,” he said. “It’s all about all of us coming together.”
And unite they did – The Iron Coffins, The Iron Wings, The Christian Motorcycle Association, Five of a Kind, Leader of Men, Fire and Iron, #1 Stunnas, ABATE, the Legion Riders of Wesleyville, High Maintenance Queens, Bikers for Christ, The Star Riders, Lucky 13, Northern Riders, The Enforcers, The Blue Knights, The Pride, Chrome Angels, Last Nights, Kingsmen, Brothers to the End, The Warrior Brotherhood, The Hooligans, and former members of the now-defunct Dead City Riders – to strengthen our society, while bringing a smile to more than one innocent, blameless, helpless child.
“Christmastime unites people,” said Chad, with a big smile. “Last year, between nine organizations, we had 453 toys. This year, in our second year of doing this, we’re still growing. We usually pick two agencies to donate the toys to, and then we do a supply drive on top of that, and we select a different agency to benefit from that.”
The Highmark Caring Place – whose honorary chairman is the late Fred Rogers – was one of those agencies. Located on Cranberry Street in Erie, the Highmark Caring Place “champions the cause of grieving children by creating awareness of their needs, providing programs for them and their families, and empowering the community to effectively support them,” according to its website.
The other beneficiary of the toy drive was the Injured Motorcycle Riders Foundation who, as their website attests, endeavor to “help our injured brothers, sisters, and their families in any way that we can,” throughout northwestern Pennsylvania, including Erie, Crawford, Venango, and Warren counties.
“The toys will be split between them,” Chad said. “And then the supplies – anything from cleaning supplies, toiletries, sheets, pillows, anything that vets coming home can use when they first get an apartment – go to the Veterans Administration Homeless Care Team.”
Donation boxes were set up at a plethora of locations around Erie County, including Grapevine Laundry & Linen, Hunter Jack’s, Scooters, Lakeside Tavern, Mutiny Ink Tattoo Shop, both Off Road Express locations, and VFW Post 470 in Erie. In the end, they collected more than 600 toys and 12 boxes of household items for the VA, while simultaneously dispelling the myth that bikers exist on the fringes of our society; Chad explained just what motivated BACA and the Bikers of Erie County to perform their extraordinary feats of giving.
“I believe, and I see firsthand, the biker community here in Erie are very giving people. A lot of guys, they look rough and tough, but I always say, I’d rather lose my kid in a bunch of bikers than at the Millcreek Mall,” he explained. “We care about our community. If everybody just sat at home and did nothing, no community would survive. If we can combine and make one kid smile, it’s worth it. That’s what it’s all about.”