On Thursday, June 7, West Hartford's Brace Road firehouse once again served as as the kick-off site for the Uniformed Professional Fire Fighters Association of Connecticut (UPFFA) annual "Fill the Boot" campaign for the Muscular Dystrophy Association (MDA).
Representatives from both organizations, as well as fire fighters from area towns participating in the fundraiser, were on hand to begin this year's campaign.
Last year, the Fire Fighter's Association signature event raised $450,000 in Connecticut. This year's goal is $525,000.
"Fire fighters have a long history of raising money for the Muscular Dystrophy Association, not only here in Connecticut but across the U.S.A.," said Peter Carozza, president of the Uniformed Professional Fire Fighters of Connecticut.
Carozza said that 65 different local unions in the state raise money on behalf of the MDA. Many do boot drives in the summer months, like West Hartford does, but others hold Fill the Boot at other times of the year, or host completely different fundraisers such as the golf tournament and "Wing Crawl" (chicken wings) in Manchester.
Lt. Carl Dojan, co-coordinator of MDA fundraising for the , said that two boot drives and a beer tasting are planned in West Hartford this year. The beer tasting will be held in conjunction with , and will take place in in September.
"I don't know if you can even imagine what it means to us as recipients of MDA's services," said Sharon Denson, a member of the Muscular Dystrophy Association's executive committee.
"Fill the Boot helps bring publicity to what muscular dystrophy is. It's a very serious disease, particularly in the way it affects infants. Many don't live past their first birthday," Denson said.
Denson was stricken with muscular dystrophy as an adult, and has served on the MDA's executive committee for several years, also getting involved with the organization's annual fundraising telethon.
Denson said there are 43 different diseases which are considered muscular dystrophy, including ALS which is also known as "Lou Gehrig's Disease." The MDA's work funds research into treatment options like gene therapy, as well as discovering the cause of these diseases.
Locally, the MDA helps support clinics at the Hospital for Special Care and Yale, where patients with muscular dystrophy are diagnosed and kept as healthy as possible, Denson said. The MDA also funds Camp Hemlock in Hebron, a week-long sleep-away camp for children with muscular dystrophy.
Denson said that another major benefit of the Fill the Boot campaign is its visibility. "Fill the Boot also brings people to our services, those who might not realize that we can support them." The organization even has a loan fund for specialized equipment people can use when they are traveling around the country, she said.
"The MDA helps us get the best care and live the best life possible. It's like a family. That's why I spend time giving back," Denson said.
MDA is the nonprofit health agency dedicated to curing muscular dystrophy, ALS and related diseases by funding worldwide research. The Association also provides comprehensive health care and support services, advocacy and education. For more information, visit their website.