Township honored for Fill the Boot fundraising

News Photo by Julie Riddle Alpena Township Lt. John Clements, Cpt. Ken Piper, and firefighter/emergency medical technician Jake Ordway prepare to collect donations for the Muscular Dystrophy Association, hoping to earn another year with the highest-fundraising plaque from MDA.

ALPENA — A firefighter’s shoes may be hard to fill, but their boots fill up nicely, thanks to the generous hearts of Alpena residents.

Continuing a 67-year relationship between firefighters and the Muscular Dystrophy Association, the Alpena Township Fire Department was recently honored by MDA for being the top fundraiser in the region.

The department is now the proud temporary owner of a travelling plaque, which, along with bragging rights, will be theirs until another department earns the award for collecting donations from the community. Each year, area firefighters raise money to be used by MDA to fight the effects of muscular dystrophy, a rare, incurable genetic disease that causes muscle weakness and a progressive decrease in muscle mass.

The department raised $7,100 last year in their three Fill the Boot campaigns, adding to the 2019 total of $305,484 raised statewide by Michigan union firefighters. During each campaign, area firefighters spend two hours at a popular Alpena intersection, inviting passersby to donate to the worthy cause.

Firefighters and MDA have been linked since 1952, when a Boston firefighter’s union raised $5,000 for a child with muscular dystrophy in an impromptu door-to-door campaign. Today, 1,900 fire departments across the nation raise $20 million annually to fund research, support MDA care centers, and send kids to MDA summer camp, where they can use special equipment to rock climb, ride horses, swim, and just be a kid, at least for a week.

Cpt. Ken Piper of the Alpena Township Fire Department attended a ceremony in Lansing to receive the plaque last month. He’s proud of his department’s efforts in supporting the work of MDA, a group of people who, like firefighters, are determined to do what good they can in the world.

Friendly competition among departments spurs the competitive type- a personality of a typical firefighter to work diligently, according to Piper. If other departments collect more than the township next year, he said, that shows they’ve really gone to work on behalf of an organization that helps children and families.

“And then people win,” Piper said.

Growing up with muscular dystrophy in a town like Alpena, where knowledge about the disease within the community and even among medical personnel is limited, can pose special challenges. Presque Isle resident Desiree Liedke, 65, was misdiagnosed as a child, doctors telling her that she had polio. It wasn’t until later in life, when she started to experience joint and bone issues and saw similar signs in a family member, that she researched further and discovered the Muscular Dystrophy Association.

Getting connected to MDA, Liedke said, was life-changing. She had spent much of her life trying to hide her condition, feeling alone with the coordination issues that make her feel clumsy and weak.

Walking into the doors of an MDA care center, where everyone knew and understood her condition and where she could get answers and hope, was “probably one of the greatest moments” of her life.

Other people with muscular dystrophy, both children and adults, live in Alpena, some of them undergoing that same lonely experience of feeling different and not knowing why, Liedke said. The coins and dollars dropped in a boot do make a difference, and so do the men and women standing in traffic asking for money.

“I’m very thankful they’ve taken this on as their baby,” Liedke said. “They have no idea how much they’re changing lives.”

Julie Riddle can be reached at 989-358-5693 or jriddle@thealpenanews.com.

Fill the Boot

The next Fill the Boot campaign by Alpena Township firefighters will be held from 4 to 6 p.m. Friday at the intersection of South State Avenue and South Ripley Boulevard, near Nieman’s Family Market and Thunder Bowl Lanes.

Other upcoming campaigns:

Friday, June 28

Friday, August 30