IAFF NEWS - The tradition of collecting for MDA in North Providence, Rhode Island, two weeks before Labor Day pre-dates John Laurie’s career.
Now president of North Providence Local 2334, Laurie says local members were filling the boot well before he joined the fire service 28 years ago, and continue to this day in droves and with a level of enthusiasm and efficiency the community has come to expect.
“I have always been 100 percent engaged in the Fill-the-Boot program, with every one of our members taking the time to get out into the community and collect,” says Laurie, who explains that the key to Local 2334’s successful MDA program is the members’ commitment to supporting the cause.
Ask almost any affiliate leader or member about why their local collects for MDA and the answer is simply, “We always have,” or “It’s part of what we do.” Both of those are true, but there are many reasons to support MDA.
For some, there is a personal connection to muscular disease that helps fuel the enthusiasm for collecting millions of dollars every year for research and treatment or inspires members to participate in MDA summer camp.
One Local 2334 member, David Dilorio, retired seven years ago only to learn four years later that he had ALS. “David worked for 30 years, and during that entire time he was a strong supporter of MDA,” says Laurie. “When we learned he was sick, that just made us even more committed to keep working it at, to help our brother and to help others suffering from the disease.”
Professional Fire Fighters of Eastern Missouri Local 2665 also has a strong tradition of supporting MDA, powered in part by a personal story. Local 2665 member Ron Fritz’s daughter, Morgan, now 18, was diagnosed with spinal muscular atrophy when she was just 18 months old. Since then, the Fritz family has been an ambassador for MDA in their community. As a child, Morgan served as Missouri State Goodwill Ambassador for MDA. Local 2665 is also among the top fundraising locals in the United States.
The IAFF-MDA partnership spans more than 60 decades, and the IAFF is the largest MDA national sponsor, raising more than $607 million to help fund research for treatment and cures, 150 care centers for MDA families and to send 3,800 kids to summer camp each year.
The IAFF is honored to continue our long-standing partnership with MDA and our shared mission to free individuals from the harmful effects of these life-threatening diseases,” says General President Harold A. Schaitberger. “Today, we're inspired to see more and more MDA families overcoming challenges and living life to the fullest. We are proud to be part of this progress and will continue to fight alongside MDA until a cure is found.”
There are additional benefits to filling the boot. In addition to raising money for MDA, locals with a MDA program also generate strong public support and improved community relations.
“People see us out there every Labor Day, taking time out to collect for this worthy cause, and know that their fire fighters don’t just keep them safe, they are members of and care about the community,” says President of Eastern Missouri Local 2665 Dennis Murray. He notes that people have stopped by the fire station to make a donation because they missed seeing them on the corner.
This sense of goodwill is not lost on community leaders, either, according to IAFF-MDA National Coordinator Roger Lopez. “When these decision makers see us out there collecting, it gives them another reason to support us when we need them,” he says.
For affiliates that have not implemented a MDA program or want to enhance an existing effort, the IAFF and MDA have launched a campaign that will include a toolkit of resources affiliates can use in their own communities. In addition, the IAFF offered two workshops at the Affiliate Leadership Training Summit (ALTS) in January to help affiliate leaders in their local MDA efforts, including tips from getting started to holding Fill-the-Boot drives and other fundraising and awareness efforts.
Lopez recommends holding Fill-the-Boot drives in the spring or early summer when the weather is better, and to have alternate dates in case of conflicts or bad weather. In addition, including additional events throughout the year keeps your local in the public’s eye.