Firefighters and other volunteers will be out holding boots and collecting donations during the annual Central Arkansas Firefighters Christmas Boot Drive (CAFCBD) as the program hits its 20-year milestone this weekend.
Boots will be out starting on Black Friday as well as Saturday morning and on Dec. 2 and 9. Money collected will go toward purchasing toys and clothes for local children as well as providing Christmas dinner to needy Faulkner County families.
Since the program, formerly called Fill the Boot, began, it has provided Christmas for more than 13,000 children and their families.
Last year, volunteers were able to raise funds and provide Christmas to 650 children, while serving 125 local families.
"If there’s a worry for Christmas, we take care of that," CAFCBD Director and Conway Fire Department Engineer Charlie Bates said. "For some, it’s either pay the light bill or do Christmas with the kids. A lot of parents keep it a secret from their kids so they can say [the gifts] are from Santa Claus. We’re trying to be Santa for the kids so the parents can take care of the kids."
The program has grown from its original Conway roots over the past 20 years, breaching out to include Greenbrier, Vilonia, Mayflower, Wooster, Mt. Vernon-Enola and Guy.
In its early years, the CAFCBD was a wing under the Conway Firefighters Association Local 4016 but has since grown to incorporate other volunteer areas in central Arkansas.
"The reason we became Central Arkansas Firefighters Christmas Boot Drive was to incorporate more of the volunteers. We were already starting to help some of those schools, but wanted to give Vilonia and Greenbrier a shout out," Bates said, noting Fill the Boot had grown into something bigger.
Volunteers will be out for a three-week period collecting funds. However, boots can also be found in several businesses throughout the county.
Bates said boots were dispersed to willing businesses on Nov. 1 and will remain at those spots through Dec. 1.
Each year, the businesses that raises the most funds is awarded a trophy.
West Centennial Bank at the intersection of Hogan Lane and Tyler Street has raised the most funds almost every year since the boot drive began in 1998.
While most of the original team has since retired from the fire department, several volunteers have been around for more than a decade, Bates said.
Jeff Moix, a CFD captain, is the last remaining firefighter from the original team.
Cpt. Rick Powell has participated in the program for 19 years.
Being able to make a difference in children’s lives keeps him coming back each year.
"Knowing that I’m helping a child out at Christmas [is what I like most about it]," he said. "Some of these folks have it really bad."
Bates said he wanted to also thank Larry Sanders, Rodney Sanders, Chad Johnson, Tim Capps and Alesha Arnold for their many years of volunteering with the program.
He said the opportunity to reach out to those in need in the community drew him in.
"I really saw it as an opportunity," he said. "When it comes to showing love to other people, it’s really a giving of yourself for the betterment of somebody else. I saw this being a good thing — the way I could show the love of Jesus to these families. There’s really nothing not to like about it."
For the next three weekends, residents can find firefighters and other volunteers out holding boots at several locations in Conway including the Conway Commons, Conway Towne Centre and at Lewis Crossing. Boots can also be found throughout Greenbrier and Vilonia.