Staff Writer
Andrew Martin Kolstee

“It’s all about the kids,” said Keith Ecklund, organizer of the annual “Fill the Bus” school supply drive. Now in its fifth year, the local Axemen Professional Firefighters Motorcycle Club (New York Chapter 4) collects school supplies in an effort to help prepare the youth and the educators with supplies necessary to facilitate their education. The drive covers the Jamestown and Falconer school districts, as well as the T.E.A.M. (Teenage Education and Motherhood) program. See page 14 for a list of collection sites.

Ecklund, a Jamestown native whose father was a Jamestown police officer, served 15 years in the Fire Department at Firehouse Station 4 on Buffalo Street, and is now retired due to an injury in the line of duty. Ecklund and his fellow Axemen, both retired and active duty, will be collecting items every student needs in the classroom and at home. Please see the list on page 14. The public can bring their donations to any one of the drop off locations in the area.

The Axemen are made up of active and retired firefighters. For the past five years, they have organized the ‘Fill the Bus’ drive to collect school supplies for local students.

It’s All About the Kids

“We saw the need,” Ecklund said when asked how this started. The “Fill the Bus” drive began as a project with Neighborhood Watch. Ecklund’s wife, Kim, who was President of the Watch at the time, is a Jamestown City Councilwoman. Five years ago, the Axemen took over the drive.

For the first two years, supplies were brought to Jamestown schools, and then expanded to Falconer schools. Each year they also choose an outlying school to distribute the supplies. “We are trying to reach out to the whole county. That’s our goal,” Ecklund said. “We have the demand, but we don’t have the supply yet.”

“My wife and I are with the Striders mentoring program,” Ecklund said. “Kids are kids to me, and we don’t try to reach to only one socioeconomic group.” He said that all kids have needs, no matter the situation. “If we can help the kids, then that alleviates the pressure on the educators, so that makes the educators better off because then the kids are better prepared for the classroom,” Ecklund added.

Collecting the Supplies

Located in over thirty local banks and businesses, yellow recycling bins donated by the Board of Public Utilities are placed to collect donations. A flyer is attached listing the items to be collected. They began collecting on August 1 and will continue through September 21.

On Saturday, September 22, 2018, a final collection is taken with a “Fill the Bus” event held at Friendly’s in Jamestown between 9 a.m. and 3 p.m. People can bring school supplies to a school bus, which will be ready to collect additional donations. A fire truck will be on–site for people to see and take photos, an event enjoyed by both kids and adults alike.

“We are thankful for what we get,” Ecklund said. The Axemen collect many types of school supplies. Some contributions are out of the ordinary, Ecklund noted, like handmade wooden toys. Ecklund is grateful to the community’s contributions.

“We are all dependent on the community,” Ecklund said. “Every little bit helps.” Many businesses have become involved with the drive, including Cummins as a major contributor over the past two years.

Once the supplies are collected, the Axemen ride to local schools to distribute the school supplies.

Motorcycles Ride to Schools

The Axemen sort the donations and then on the week of September 24, they choose a nice day for a motorcycle run, and they ride to each school. “We will load up my trailer with the boxes of supplies,” Ecklund said. “The motorcycles come in so the students can see the bikes. Usually when we get to the schools, the teachers and students are outside. They can look at the bikes, sit on the bikes, and interact with the members of the club.” The supplies are brought to the guidance counselors for distribution, as they know which students are in need.

“A lot of students come from homes that don’t have a lot,” Ecklund said, repeating that donations are not limited to any particular group of students. “It kind of helps everyone,” he said. “Students are always in need of something.”

Who Are the Axemen?

“We ride motorcycles and do charity work,” Ecklund said. The Axemen Professional Firefighters consist of members of the International Association of Fire Fighters (IAFF) firefighters union. “We are made up of active and retired firemen,” Ecklund said. Founded in Detroit in 1998, the Axemen have numerous chapters that organize charity events around the country.

“When you are on the job, there is the brotherhood and when you retire, you move away from it,” Ecklund said. Axemen gives retired firefighters opportunities to bond with each other and their active duty brothers, as well as continue to help the communities they have served. “For retirees, it was a good way of being able to ride motorcycles and spent time with the guys they used to work with and do charity work.”

“We started about four and a half years ago,” Ecklund said. He now serves as the chapter’s Sergeant–at–Arms. The local chapter was started by retired and active firefighters who wanted to help more people. The group includes firefighters in Jamestown, Dunkirk, Fredonia, and Salamanca.

The group has been involved with Callie’s Crusaders, sponsoring charity events, and donating to local causes. “Anything that comes up that’s any kind of a charity,” Ecklund said, “we try to get involved and help in some way.”

“We also participate in any motorcycle event that we can to help the community,” said Ecklund. Among these, the Axemen organize the “Ride to Find Em” motorcycle run at the annual Celoron Ribfest to support the C.U.E. (Center for Missing Persons), which supports and advocates the families of missing persons and focuses on finding the missing.

“You just want to help people,” Ecklund said. As a firefighter, “we carried that through, even on our off times,” he added, “from building playgrounds to helping people move.”

The Axemen are collecting school supplies through September 21 to distribute to local schools.

A Supportive Community

“The community is what helps us make our vision what it is,” Ecklund said. “If it wasn’t for the community, we couldn’t carry it through. We are lucky enough that this area is very supportive.”

“We like to thank the community, local businesses, and local media for their involvement and support,” Ecklund said. “If it wasn’t for them, this wouldn’t be possible. We don’t do it for us, we do it for our youth.”

School Supply Donation Drop-Off Locations

  • Affinity One FCU – East 2nd St.
  • Affinity One FCU – Sessions St., Lakewood
  • AmeriClean
  • Auto Credit – Washington St.
  • Busti Federated Church
  • Chautauqua Metal Finishing
  • Chautauqua Pools & Power Sports – Foote. Ave.
  • Community Bank – Fairmount Ave.
  • Community Bank – Main St. Falconer
  • Community Bank – North Main St.
  • Community Bank – South Main St.
  • Cummins Engine (2)
  • Five Star Bank – Fairmount Ave.
  • Greater Chautauqua FCU – Main St., Falconer
  • Harley Davidson of Jamestown – Falconer (2)
  • Hogg Shop – Main St., Falconer
  • Jamestown Area Community FCU – East 2nd St.
  • Key Bank – 5th St.
  • Key Bank – Fairmount Ave.
  • Key Bank – Foote Ave. Plaza
  • Lakeshore Savings – 4th St.
  • M&T Bank – Fairmount Ave.
  • M&T Bank – Foote Ave.
  • M&T Bank – Main St., Falconer
  • Northwest Bank – 3rd St.
  • Northwest Bank – East 2nd St., Falconer
  • Northwest Bank – Fairmount Ave.
  • Northwest Bank – Foote Ave. Plaza
  • Southern Chautauqua FCU – East 2nd St.
  • Southside Redemption – Foote Ave.
  • True Value Hardware – Foote Ave.

School Supplies the Axemen Need

  • Pens
  • Pencils
  • Erasers
  • Folders
  • Spiral notebooks
  • Dividers
  • Index cards
  • Highlighters
  • Backpacks
  • Zipper pouches
  • Post-It notes
  • Pencil boxes
  • Rulers
  • Tissues
  • Crayons
  • Wide/college ruled filler paper