Christmas Boot Drive kicks off Friday

by Sonja J. Keith

Local firefighters will have boot in hand as they continue this year to seek donations to help those in need during the holidays but the organization has a new structure and name – Christmas Boot Drive.

“We have outgrown the name,” said organizer Billie Carter. “The event will no longer be sponsored by the Conway Firefighter Local 4016. Due to the tremendous growth over the past 16 years, it was in the best interest of all involved, from the volunteers to the children we provide for, to expand to include all firefighters in Central Arkansas.”

Carter explained that with the expansion of the program throughout Faulkner County and with so many departments participating, organizers felt they should pursue a new name and structure. There is now a 15-member executive board overseeing the project, with Carter serving as director.

“It was a natural time for change,” he said. “Everybody is super excited about the name change.”

This is the 17th year for the project. Organizers work with school counselors and the community to provide needed clothes, shoes, toys and food to underprivileged children.

Last year, more than 1,000 children from more than 240 families benefitted. Since it started in 1998, the Christmas Boot Drive has raised more than $390,000 and touched the lives of more than 11,000 children and their families. “It is all possible because of the loyal citizens of Faulkner County.”

Organizers thought about incorporating Faulkner County in the name of the organization but wanted to leave the door open for expansion in Central Arkansas. “I’m the eternal optimist and I didn’t want to go through another name change down the road,” Carter said. “Our goal is to touch as many lives as possible and branch out to surrounding counties.”

Traditionally, firefighters begin their boot collection on Black Friday. Although some stores are opening on Thanksgiving Day, Carter said the beginning of the boot collection will not change. “We are family-oriented and this is about helping families,” he said. “We are not going to take away from family time.”

Firefighters will be holding out boots in Conway, Greenbrier and Vilonia from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. Friday, Nov. 28; 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 29; 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 6; and 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 13.

Conway Collection points include Conway Commons, the Conway Towne Center, Kroger on Salem Road and at the entrance to First Security Bank on the Old Morrilton Highway.

Firefighters will also be collecting at the intersection of Highways 64 and 107 in Vilonia; and in Greenbrier at Harp’s, Fred’s, Cash Saver and the new Walmart Neighborhood Market.

Donations can also be mailed to Christmas Boot Drive, 2504 Batesville Mountain Road, Damascus 72039.

In addition to firefighters stationed with boots in hand at stores and shopping centers, there are “Boots in Businesses” at stores, banks and other locations. A boot is located at the 501 LIFE office at 701 Chestnut St. in Downtown Conway.

With the donated funds, volunteers purchase toys and shoes for a wrapping party, scheduled at 6 p.m. Tuesday, Dec. 16, at a vacant building on Jim’s Lane.

Last year, the weather proved to be a challenge for the boot collection. “We hope Mother Nature will work with us this year,” Carter said. “Last year, the ice slowed us down.”

While the economy has been a big factor impacting the number served, Carter anticipates the need will be even greater this year as families continue to recover from the April 27 tornado. “There is going to be an extra need because of the tornado.”

In addition to 24 schools throughout the county, proceeds from the boot drive will also benefit students in CAPCA Head Start and HIPPY programs.

Carter points out that when the committee receives the names from school counselors they make a promise to take care of them “but we haven’t raised a penny.”

“We live in the best community in the country,” said. “Everything we do is based on faith.”