A sea of 450 bikes stood behind Scott Seaton last Tuesday night as he worked on the brakes of a BMX bike. Soon, those bikes will join more than 700 others that Project Re:Cycle has repaired and distributed in Kankakee County.
Though Project Re:Cycle officially became a nonprofit in 2012, its origins date back to the late 1950s at the late Francis “Foo” Chamness’ house at 545 South Main St. in Bourbonnais – where Chicago Dough Pizza is located today.
“We had more than 40 kids within a block of each other,” recalled Foo’s son, Mike Chamness, who now is Bourbonnais’ director of public works. “With my dad being the handyman he was, he became known as the ‘bicycle guy.’ Kids would come to him with broken chains and spooks, and he would fix them in our basement.”
As the neighborhood kids aged out of their bikes, Chamness started collecting and repairing them to give away to someone else who needed a bike.
Years later, he brought the project to the Knights of Columbus 7072 out of Maternity BVM Parish. For at least 30 years, the Knights have provided funding and worked on bikes that were either donated or recovered from police departments and roadsides.
It was normal for Chamness to come home and find several bikes on his porch, waiting to be worked on and given away to someone who needed one.
“Our basement looked like a bike shop,” Chamness said. “It grew so quickly. It brings tears to my eyes just thinking about it.”
The bike repair operations took a hit when Chamness passed away in 2011. After his wake, four of his grandchildren stood up and said they wanted to continue the bike project.
That was when they met Seaton, who had been working on bikes with Chamness for more than a decade with his son. A year later, the Chamness Legacy Recycle Project was founded, though it is known around the community as Project Re:Cycle.
When Project Re:Cycle moved to its current location four years ago, it had 90 bikes. This time, it has 450 bikes to move out.
The nonprofit organization must find a new home after four years of renting a space in Bradley that will soon be used as storage for a business there. It has 60 days to move all those bikes, as well as four stations worth of tools.
In the past five years, the nonprofit has worked on 1,179 bikes, according to a yellow notepad that sits at one of the work stations an Eagle Scout created six months ago. That is the result of various churches, scout groups and volunteer organizations that come in each month to fix bikes.
The organization distributes most of its bikes at the Kankakee Farmers’ Market, where it averages 60 bike giveaways per visit. Those bikes go to anyone who wants a bike – whether they are 4 years old and riding for the first time or don’t have a license and need a way to get to work.
“The look you see when a kid gets his first bike and rides off is so cool, you can’t explain it,” Seaton said. “I have gotten so many hugs from kids and parents who are crying. We even have adults explain how we helped save their jobs because we gave them a bike to get to work.”
Seaton and Chamness’ family plan on providing more of those moments as the nonprofit organization looks for a new location.
“We would hate to see it dry up because they don’t have a space,” said Amy Chamness, Foo’s daughter. “It helps the community because it provides transportation, and it gets kids outside. That’s why my father did it.”
Those who have space for Project Re:Cycle can call Seaton at 815-644-6271.