Illinois Fire Departments Collect Money for Muscular Dystrophy

Four metro-east fire departments are helping to Fill the Boot on Friday by collecting spare change at local intersections to raise money for the Muscular Dystrophy Association.

Since June, more than 20 area fire departments have participated in the Fill the Boot campaign. Some, like the Lebanon Fire Department, are participating in the fund-raising campaign for the first time.

Lebanon Fire Chief Joe Hogg said the department decided to get involved after learning that an 11-year-old girl in their community benefits directly from MDA services.

"We thought it was a very good cause to get involved with," Hogg said. "I talked to our firemen and immediately got plenty of volunteers."

The young girl is sixth-grader Haley Schmitt, who suffers from a muscular disorder called sensory neuropathy.

Haley's father, Joe Schmitt Sr., explained that she has lost the sensory ability in her feet and her ability to walk is tied to her eyesight. For example, if Haley has her eyes closed, she will fall, he said.

Her diagnosis has changed over the past several years, her father said.

"She's used a walker since she was in kindergarten, and the doctor's said she would never walk," said Haley's mother Teresa Schmitt. "And she wanted to prove them wrong. Now she walks with a little limp."

Teresa Schmitt describes her daughter as a fighter. "She's had the most positive attitude," Teresa Schmitt said. "She's not going to let (the disease) beat her. She doesn't just sit back and watch everybody."

And Haley was willing and ready to join in when Lebanon firefighters and her family gathered at the busy intersection of Illinois 4 and U.S. 50 on Friday to raise funds for MDA.

She offered a smile and a sticker to the drivers who deposited change and dollar bills into a firefighter's boot.

The funds collected during the Fill the Boot campaign will go to the MDA office in Edwardsville, where it will be put to use for local families like Haley's.

MDA provides wheelchairs, leg braces, support services and clinics for those who qualify. The agency also sends every child in the area between the ages of 6-21 to MDA camp each year.

Haley's eyes brighten with the mention of camp. She said her favorite thing at camp was horseback riding on a horse named Sarge.

"It's fun," Haley said. "At the end of camp, I'm mad cause I don't want to leave."

This year's local fund-raising goal is $85,000, up from last year's goal of $70,000, said Cortnie Hodges, a spokesman for the Edwardsville office of the MDA.

No information was immediately available as to how much money was raised so far.

Distributed by the Associated Press