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IL Firefighters Find New Way to 'Fill the Boot'

IL Firefighters Find New Way to 'Fill the Boot'

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Chicago Sun-Times via YellowBrix

September 30, 2010

HOMEWOOD, IL – Firefighters are used to handling tough situations. Going into a building fully engulfed in flames to rescue people is not done by those who can’t deal with adversity.

That may help explain how firefighters in Homewood and Chicago Ridge approached the situation of being told their usual way of collecting funds for the Muscular Dystrophy Association was being altered.

For Homewood, the change was radical. For the past 56 years, firefighters connected with the International Association of Fire Fighters annually had stood on street corners with firemen’s boots collecting for MDA through the Fill the Boot campaign. But in June, Homewood passed a law that eliminated any soliciting of funds at intersections.

That left it up to standing at storefronts, which firefighters say limits their fundraising capabilities due to having fewer people to approach.

John Elashik, president of Homewood Professional Firefighters Union Local 3656, said they were able to raise $630 for MDA at the “Ride for Boo” fundraiser last month.

“In past years, we were bringing in between $4,200 and $5,200,” Elashik said.

Chicago Ridge firefighters, who for years worked the four corners of Harlem Avenue and Southwest Highway, were told this year they had to confine themselves to the corner of northbound Harlem Avenue and westbound Southwest Highway only. That is the only portion of the intersection that is in Chicago Ridge.

Joe Bandy, a Chicago Ridge firefighter and secretary/treasurer of Chicago Ridge Professional Firefighters Local 3098, headed up the effort for a fundraising event after Chicago Ridge union firefighters pulled in only $600, less than half of what they averaged in the past.

“We feel we failed the MDA this year,” Bandy said. “To give them only $600 would have been a shame.”

Rather than just accept the changes thrown at them by village officials, Bandy said firefighters from Locals 3656 and 3098 decided to put together their own “fill the boot” event to make up the difference from being booted from the street corners.

Firefighters from North Palos Professional Firefighters Local 4323 also will act as hosts of the event.

“North Palos is just always looking to step up for these types of causes,” Bandy said. “We work with them on a lot of fires, and they’re willing to help us out with this.”

Another source that has a history of helping raise funds are the owners of Bobby McGee’s Good Times Pub in Chicago Ridge. Bandy approached owner Nick Katsilieris, and Fran Alghini, whose son, Vince Liberto, was a business partner at the pub until he died of cancer.

The bar has run fundraisers for Toys for Tots, St. Baldrick’s Foundation and other charities.

“We’ll take on every opportunity for a decent cause,” said Katsilieris, who agreed to help the firefighters.

The venue is bringing in about a dozen bands to entertain during the Rockin’ for MDA event from 3 p.m. to 2 a.m. Saturday.

In addition to admission fees going to MDA, the charity event will feature firefighters passing through the crowd with boots to fill with donations. A portion of the food and drink receipts also will go to MDA.

“We’re hoping to give back to people who can’t help themselves,” Alghini said.

Marcy Brandis, fundraising coordinator at MDA’s Orland Park office, said the extra mile the firefighters – particularly Bandy, Elashik and Brian Hughes, of the North Palos Fire Protection District – are willing to go with the event is typical of the effort they put in every year.

“We’ve had a relationship with firefighters for more than 50 years. It’s been Fill the Boot at intersections since the start, and that caught on like wildfire. It’s been very successful,” Brandis said.

In 2009, the Associated Fire Fighters of Illinois, a part of IAFF, raised $800,000 in Illinois for MDA, ninth in the nation. Nationally, the IAFF raised $28.5 million in 2009.

“I knew it would be a lot of extra work to do an out-of-the-box event like the one they’re doing,” Brandis said. “It’s fantastic.”


Rockin’ for MDA runs from 3 p.m. to 2 a.m. Oct. 2 at Bobby McGee’s Good Times Pub, 10139 S. Harlem Ave., Chicago Ridge.

Tickets are $5 in advance or $7 at the door. Advance tickets can be bought by contacting Joe Bandy at (708) 408-9270 or at

Donations payable to MDA also can be sent to Chicago Ridge Local 3098, Attn: Rockin’ for MDA, P.O. Box 288, Chicago Ridge, IL 60415

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