If you’re driving through Forest Park on Friday, keep an eye out for firefighters standing at intersections with their boots in their hands.
The donations that they will be soliciting from motorists aren’t to pay for the pizza they’ll get at the end of the day ” Domino’s has agreed to provide that this year. 100 percent of proceeds from the Fill the Boot campaign benefit the Muscular Dystrophy Association (MDA), helping to support local clinics for people who suffer from neuromuscular diseases.
Fill the Boot is a nationwide joint effort between firefighters and the MDA, which celebrated the 50th anniversary of the campaign ” and received a total of almost $200 million in donations – last year.
The Forest Park Fire Department has participated in Fill the Boot for close to fifteen years, according to Tom Matousek, president of the local chapter of the International Association of Fire Fighters in Illlinois.
Last year, firefighters from Forest Park raised more than $3,000 for local residents affected by a neuromuscular disease.
“(The fire fighters’) commitment to MDA has been unbelievable, it really has,” said Sarah Madden, MDA program coordinator, adding that upwards of 90 percent of fire departments in Illinois participate in the Fill the Boot campaign each year. “The partnership that we’ve formed with them is something that is really unique and pretty special.”
Madden emphasized that the money raised by fire fighters stays local, helping families in that area by providing flu shots and helping to defray the cost of wheelchairs or leg braces. MDA also sponsors a free, week-long summer camp for kids 16-21 who have a neuromuscular disorder.
“It’s really catered to those kids. At a normal summer camp they might tell you ‘You can’t participate, your disability is too great.’ We have people on hand to help these kids participate in every activity, with a 1:1 volunteer ratio so that every kid gets the attention they deserve,” Madden said.
“It’s kind of neat to know that all of (the money raised by fire fighters in Forest Park) is going to families in this area who really need this help,” she said. “(The fire fighters) work hard, especially when it’s 90 degrees out.”
In 2004, the International Association of Fire Fighters in Illinois raised more than $485,000 for MDA. Every year, they present their checks on the Jerry Lewis MDA Telethon on Labor Day Weekend, which is televised on WGN-TV, Channel 9.
This year, about ten fire fighters will be stationed at the intersections of Circle Avenue and Jackson Boulevard and Randolph Street and Des Plaines Avenue from 1 to 6 p.m.
“We make a day of it. We go out, and we stand on the corner, and some people get a little agitated because we tie up traffic but for the most part they know why we’re there and what we’re doing,” Matousek said.
“A lot of people give us the loose change from their consoles, but we even got twenties before, which is great,” said Andrew Weber, a Forest Park fire fighter and coordinator of this year’s campaign, “but anything we can get is great.”
“We have a good time doing it, and then come back here to the firehouse and count the money and go out for some pizza afterwards,” Matousek said. “So it’s a nice outing for fire fighters and of course we’re helping MDA.”