Back to the boot: Firefighters to collect for local food banks this weekend

PUNXSUTAWNEY — Members of the Punxsutawney Fire Department will have their boots in hand from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. this weekend at major intersections throughout town for the 29th annual fire department boot drive to collect donations for area food banks and individual food baskets.

Boot drive collections will take place in front of the Lindsey Fire Hall, West Mahoning; Central Fire Hall, East Mahoning, Hampton Avenue and Front Street intersection; and Elk Run Fire Company, at the intersection of Elk Run and Graffius avenues.

The food drive began in 1983 under the leadership of William Zimmerman, Bob Hockinson and Warren Kellert, members the Punxsutawney Fire Department.

Tami McFarland, fire department vice president, said the need remains the same as it did in 1983.

"I understand that times are really tough, and everyone is hurting," McFarland said. But she went on to say that there are some people who are hurting more than others.

"I think it would be wonderful if people would search their hearts and give a little bit more to help these people who are in our own community," she said.

McFarland said all the money collected in the boot drive stays in the community.

"I've heard people say that the firefighters just keep the money for themselves," McFarland said. "All the money goes to the food baskets from the list of needy families we receive and the rest goes to the area food banks."

“I think it’s the best fundraiser that the fire department does for our community,” she said, because it helps so many people — not just around the holidays but throughout the year.

“I want to challenge all the people who will be out shopping or hunting, for each motorist that drives past our volunteers: If they would donate a dollar to the boot drive, there would be plenty of food to donate to individuals and area food banks.”

McFarland said every year, the department receives a list of families in need at this time of year. Members then prepare food baskets for families on the list.

“We purchase everything through County Market and put the food baskets together, ready for distribution,” she said. “If anyone is aware of someone in need, contact any firefighter, and we’ll make sure they receive a donation of a food basket.”

McFarland said they want to thank Tim Fezell of County Market for stepping up to help by replacing Comet Market, which closed its doors recently.

Non-perishable food items may be dropped off at any of the three fire halls.

Leftover funds are then donated to the local food banks.

The eight area food banks in the Punxsutawney area are the Salvation Army; St. Vincent DePaul Society (SS.C.D.); Woodland Avenue and Grace United Methodist churches (Crosstown Ministries); Big Run Christian Church; Church of the Nazarene; First Church of God; Christian Missionary Alliance Church; and Chestnut Grove Independent

Capt. Keith Jache, co-commader of the Punxsutawney Salvation Army, said the corps' food bank, along with all the others, certainly appreciates the efforts of the firefighters standing out in the street on their own time collecting money for those in need.

"We count on that donation from the fire department every year to assist with the preparation of the baskets we hand out," Jache said.

Last year, firefighters raised $5,812 during the drive, which was down from $7,102 due to most of Saturday, Dec. 10, 2011's drive being lost as crews battled the Punxsy Hotel Fire on the first day of the food drive.