Filling the boots on a hot August day

Published 7:58 pm Thursday, August 20, 2009

With temperatures in the mid-90s and the heat index breaking the triple-digit mark on Thursday, firefighters from Suffolk’s Station 5 braved the blacktop at the Harbourview Station shopping center to do something almost as near and dear to their hearts as putting out fires.

Standing beside the driveway entrances at the shopping center, firefighters in orange shirts held up boots to passing motorists, calling out for drivers to “Help out Jerry’s Kids!”

Mike Fernandez and Adam Short were baking in the heat, and they watched most of the cars drive right past. They’d been at the job of raising money for the Fill the Boot for MDA campaign since 9 a.m. Thursday. By 2 p.m., Short’s face and arms were bright with sunburn.

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But still the two men were cheerful about their task. As the occasional driver pulled over to deposit a few coins or bills into one of the boots, Fernandez or Short would step off the curb with a smile, extend a boot through an open window and give the donor a hearty “Thank you!” before stepping back to the curb to start the process over again.

Waiting at the corner as cars hurried into the Harbourview lot, Short didn’t even hesitate when asked who was better at collecting donations. “He is,” he said, pointing to Fernandez across the way and smiling. Fernandez laughed and said he was “a seasoned pro.”

But Short’s afternoon position covering the incoming traffic may have put him at a disadvantage, since folks entering the shopping complex were less likely to have change available or to be ready to make a donation. Those on the way out of Harbourview were more likely to pass Fernandez and be ready with their money.

As an aside, the same logic probably holds for Salvation Army bellringers, and it would be interesting to know if there’s a study that quantifies just how likely a donation is from someone entering a store, versus someone who is on his way out.

From my own experience, I’ve donated both on my way into a store and on my way out. But I’ve also avoided the bellringers, the Scouts or whatever group might be collecting money for a cause on more than a few occasions, feigning an important phone call, empty pockets or just an urgent mission in order to avoid the kettle, the bucket or the boot.

Standing alongside the men on Thursday while I shot photos of them at work, I felt the sweat streaming down my face and my shirt beginning to stick to my body. In such conditions, I couldn’t help but admire them for their commitment to the fundraising project.

Considering the situation, I couldn’t very well just pass on by without making a small donation. Perhaps you’ll be moved to do the same when you see them out and about during the next few weeks.