Come Labor Day weekend, members of the Greater Eagle Fire Department put their boots to work collecting spare change in hopes of making a big difference in the lives of kids who can definitely use a lift.
Firefighters will be out in force across the nation and in this valley, collecting money for the Muscular Dystrophy Association as part of the Fill the Boot campaign. Drivers will see them at key intersections around town and in front of the Eagle City Market.
As one might expect, firefighters in uniform don’t have trouble collecting both spare change and good will for kids suffering from a heartbreakingly disabling disease. But when the local firefighters hit the streets with boots in hand, they aren’t working for some faceless national charity. They are fund-raising for kids and families they know.
“This so much bigger than just us. It’s for the greater good of our whole community and for the kids and their parents,” said Eagle firefighter Brain Garvin.
When his fellow Eagle firefighter Chris Shannon collects change this weekend, he thinks of kids he has personally worked with as a volunteer camp counselor at Empire, CO. The way he sees it, every pocket full of change he collects in his boot means a child suffering from MDA is a step closer to a transformational experience.
“I have heard a lot of these kids say they look forward to camp from the day they leave to when they come back the next year,” said Shannon. “As a counselor, you receive so much more than you give that week.”
“Every single kid who wants to go to a camp, even if the money isn’t allocated for it, the MDA will direct money so every kid who wants to go to camp can go,” said Garvin.
The average cost for one kid to attend MDA camp is $800 per week. But Shannon said its impossible to place a value on what that week means to a child who faces the daily challenges associated with one of the 43 different conditions that fall under the MDA umbrella. “They can go from being a healthy kid, playing around to eight months later they are housebound,” said Garvin. Life expectancy for MDA conditions range everywhere from three months to 30 years.
While everyday life is a challenge, a week at camp is a respite, said Shannon. “They get to be a normal kid. Most of the time they are the one kid in the class who is in a wheelchair. At camp, everyone is just like they are.”
Activities during the week include everything from ziplining to scavenger hunts. There is a counselor for every camper, and the days are long and packed.
Shannon said the campers and counselors wake up three hours before breakfast to get everyone ready. “Doing that for one week gave me a whole new respect for the parents of these kids who do this every day.”
While the campers enjoy their time away, their families also benefit from the week.
“Having a child with this horrible disease, parents need this week as much as the kids do,” said Garvin.
While the camp program is a visible benefit for the Eagle firefighters collecting for MDA, its not the only beneficiary of their Labor Day fund-raising. Garvin noted that of every dollar MDA spends, 77 cents goes directly to research, services and public and professional heath education.
In addition to camp expenses, MDA donations fund therapy sessions and “durable medical equipment” such as wheelchairs, leg braces, community devices and more.
“Wheelchairs can cost more than a car,” said Garvin. “They cost in excess of $20,000 and the maintenance on them is ridiculous.”
In conjunction with their Labor Day collections. For the last couple of years, the Eagle firefighters have hosted Fill the Boot at the Boot. The evening fund-raiser at the Dusty Boot in Eagle kick starts their collections, and was celebrated last weekend.
Both Garvin and Shannon noted that when they hit the streets for the Labor Day Fill the Boot effort, local firefighters are humbled by the generosity of the community.
“It seems like people really want to give and they are apologetic if they don’t have spare change,” said Garvin.
But the local firefighters also want local big-hearted people to know where their money is going. They promise that the community’s spare change is helping kids who can really use a hand.
“That money is going directly to a Colorado family that needs it. Muscular Dystrophy is very expensive,” said Garvin.
To learn more about MDA programs and services, visit www.als.mda.org