It took seconds for Big Island firefighters and recruits to pull off their boots, but it will take the entire community to help fill them this weekend.
Standing in front of the Kona Walmart Saturday, more than a dozen West Hawaii firefighters collected donations in their footwear for the Muscular Dystrophy Association, a nonprofit health agency dedicated to finding treatments and cures for muscular dystrophy, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) and other neuromuscular diseases. The goal is to raise at least $13,000, which is the same amount Big Island firefighters raised last year, said Kailua Fire Station Capt. Charlie Spain.
Every dollar raised in Hawaii stays in Hawaii, helping fund services for individuals and their families living with neuromuscular disease. The local chapter serves more than 500 families statewide and has approximately 70 Big Island clients, said Adrianna O’Donnell, executive director of Muscular Dystrophy Association Hawaii.
“Muscular dystrophy is a genetic disorder that weakens the muscles that help the body move,” she said. “People with muscular dystrophy have incorrect or missing information in their genes, which prevents them from making the proteins they need for healthy muscles. The muscles weaken over time, so children, teens and adults who have the disease can gradually lose the ability to do the things most people can do, like walking or sitting up. Someone with muscular dystrophy might start having muscle problems as a baby or their symptoms might start later. Some people even develop muscular dystrophy as adults.”
Services offered by the Hawaii chapter include clinics on Oahu, Big Island, Kauai and Maui, support groups, a summer camp on the North Shore for children with muscular dystrophy, durable medical equipment repairs and a free equipment closet. The Muscular Dystrophy Association also annually funds more than 250 research projects. Thanks to that research, clinical trials of potential therapies are underway in Duchenne and Becker muscular dystrophies, spinal muscular atrophy, ALS and other diseases; the largest drug discovery project in ALS to date is being conducted at the ALS Therapy Development Institute; optimal care guidelines have been developed for several rare conditions; lifesaving enzyme replacement therapy has been developed for Pompe disease; and more new drugs for muscle diseases are planned in the next five years than in the previous 50, O’Donnell said.
Saturday morning, 7-year-old Savannah Kupukaa of Kohala eagerly took the coins from her family members and dropped them inside the boot belonging to firefighter Patrick Hamilton. She stood briefly on her tippytoes to make sure her $1 contribution made it in. Asked how she felt about donating, she responded, “Happy.”
Similar scenes reoccurred as several parents and grandparents were spotted handing money to children for the fundraiser while entering and exiting the Kona Walmart. The friendly firefighters thanked them and handed out stickers.
Hamen Benjamin of the Marshall Islands helped his 4-year-old daughter, Newia, drop a dollar into the boot. Benjamin didn’t know what muscular dystrophy was, but he was glad to help.
Women frequently stopped in the store’s parking lot or on the sidewalk to open their purses or wallets and make a contribution. Men often reached deep into their pockets. Whether they donated bills or spare change, it didn’t matter; all of it was appreciated.
Captain Cook resident Lorraine Cummings said she donated because of her huge respect for the firefighters. She also enjoys helping a good cause.
For six decades, firefighters nationwide have been participating in the “Fill The Boot” fundraiser for the Muscular Dystrophy Association. The Hawaii Fire Fighters Association and its members have held the annual boot drive since 1994. This year’s fundraiser is happening at the Kona and Hilo Walmart stores, as well as at the Parker Ranch Shopping Center and Waimea Center. It continues from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. today in Kona and Hilo.
Spain and Hawaii Fire Fighters Association Big Island Chairman Darren Shimaoka said the participating firefighters enjoy doing community service and supporting good causes, as well as bringing their loved ones along to help out. At the Hilo Walmart this weekend, the 30 to 40 firefighters had some additional back up — the Kamehameha Schools volleyball team and Hilo High School football team, Shimaoka added.
Grateful for their health and their family’s health, many firefighters are passionate about helping those less fortunate, including those living with neuromuscular disorders, Spain and Shimaoka said.
Spain recalled attending an International Association of Fire Fighters convention two years ago in Philadelphia and hearing Ohio firefighter Shaun Probert’s battle with ALS. He said Probert’s story, available on YouTube, made a big impact on him. It further motivated him to whatever he could help improve the quality of life for people like Probert.
Fire Paramedic Ivan Higashi collected donations Saturday morning with his children — 7-year-old Keau Higashi, 9-year-old Kamaehu Makanui and 11-year-old Kekama Makanui. Their goal was to fill two boots.
Higashi felt it was important to teach them the importance of giving and the value of community service, as well as how one should never take for granted what they have. He also thinks the “Fill The Boot” fundraiser is a good cause and enjoys the positive vibe. What Kekama liked the most was “doing a good deed.”