With the holiday season right around the corner, some members of the community are preparing to participate in various charitable events that will benefit those in need. Firefighters from across the county will be taking part in the annual Fill the Boot campaign, which will see volunteers from the departments at various businesses throughout the community accepting donations from shoppers. 

The money that is collected during the campaign will be used to provide Christmas gifts and food to families in need throughout the communities that make up Faulkner County. For some, this will be the only way their children receive Christmas gifts and the only guarantee of a holiday meal.

For Billy Carter, organizer and vice president of the Conway Firefighters Association, being able to help the community in another capacity is something he says is an extension of what a firefighter does.

"It is a volunteer effort for the firefighters to take part in collecting the money for the campaign, none of us are obligated to do so," he explained. "However, it is a natural transition for us, we want to help people. This is our opportunity to continue to make a difference in the lives of people in the communities we live and work in and we are grateful for it."

The local Fill the Boot campaign began in 1998 when the firefighters raised money to prepare food boxes for families in need. Back then, the firefighters raised $1,700. As word of the cause spread and people contributed to its success, the donations grew. Instead of just food boxes, the firefighters raised enough money to get each child in an eligible family an outfit of clothing, a pair of shoes and one toy. In 2010, more than 1,000 children from about 240 needy families received Christmas presents because of the "Fill the Boot" program in Conway.

Carter said not only do the firefighters try to help families with their physical and material needs, they also provide what he calls a "low key ministry" to help provide for their spiritual needs.

"Each child in the family will get a personalized bible with their presents or the family will get an interactive nativity set," he explained. "I call it a low key ministry but it is our way of reminding families the reason for the season."

Besides the firefighters involved in the ministry, Carter invites business owners and members of the community to be involved in the wrapping of the gifts or helping in whatever way possible to help see what a difference their donations have made.

"We have to thank the loyal citizens of Faulkner County for putting their money in the boot when they see us," he said. "Without them, we would not be able to deliver presents and a little Christmas joy to families that desperately need it. If they want to be involved in helping to shop for the presents or wrapping gifts, we’d love the help. We know that this is a community effort, we couldn’t do it without them."

Firefighters will be stationed at Conway Commons, Conway Towne Center, the Vilonia four-way, Kroger on Salem Road and Hastings Book Store in Conway from 7 a.m.-3 p.m. Friday, from 9 a.m.-3 p.m. Saturday, from 9 a.m.-3 p.m. Dec. 2 and from 9 a.m.-3 p.m. Dec. 10.

For those that wish to donate, checks can be mailed to the Conway Firefighter’s Fill the Boot, P.O. Box 2367, Conway, Ark., 72032.

Those wishing to donate new and unwrapped toys, drop off locations in Conway are: Salon Cortilo located at 2455 Washington Ave, next to Audio Express, Edward Jones office at 1050 Bob Courtway Drive, 501 Magazine, located at 701 Chestnut St. and Cut Above Salon, located at 912 Chestnut St.

(Candie Beck is a staff writer and can be reached at 505-1238 or at candie.beck@thecabin.net)