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Stanley: Up close at ‘Fill the Boot’

Plainfield Firefighter Brett Krasuski accepts donatifrom
Cate White 4 during Fill The Boot May 11. | Brian Stanley~For Sun-Times Media

Plainfield Firefighter Brett Krasuski accepts a donation from Cate White, 4, during Fill The Boot May 11. | Brian Stanley~For Sun-Times Media

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Updated: June 20, 2013 4:41PM

Luckily people give more cash than coin so the boots aren’t as heavy as they could be.

I knew why Plainfield firefighters were collecting donations last Saturday outside the Jewel on Route 59. “Fill the Boot” sponsors Camp I Am Me where young burn survivors can play and share their experiences together every year.

But until I spoke with firefighter Tony Maviglia I didn’t know they aren’t using their own boots. The crew near the fire trucks at the north entrance and the firefighters with the ambulance at the south doors were both using old pairs of the organizer’s size 10-and-a-halfs.

“They’re not actual working boots anymore,” Maviglia said, so they’ve been cleaned out enough for people to put money in. Donations are removed from the boots at least every two hours, so no one’s holding all the change that’s collected.

There are minor bragging rights between the shifts and Station 2 had been raising the most on this particular day. Weather has a big effect on donations. Nobody wants to stop and dig in their pockets when rain is pouring down and it isn’t much better when it’s 95 degrees.

Donors split evenly between those entering or exiting the store. There were plenty of polite refusals for Brian Moody, who held Maviglia’s old left boot on the left side of the south doors, and Brett Krasuski, who was holding the right on the right.

But I also saw passersby who would reach into their pockets without even waiting for “the schpiel.” Perhaps they saw the burn camp banner hanging across two shopping carts set near the door.

One man surprised Krasuski when said he was just going to “give a little” but then passed up all the singles in his wallet for a $10.

Singles are the most popular followed by coins. $20’s aren’t unheard of but Fill the Boot doesn’t have that Salvation Army gold coin at Christmas story yet.

Whether they were donating or not, any young grocery shoppers got a “Junior Firefighter” sticker from the crew.

“Kids love stickers,” Moody intoned as Maviglia went to get yet another roll of them from the engine.

Cate White, 4, proved that a few minutes later as she jumped up and down after Krasuski handed one to her.

“I want to teach her at a young age what giving is about and how (the firefighters) doing this helps others,” Tracie White said while her daughter put a donation in the boot.

Maviglia said relatives of children who have gone to the camp have told them about it during past collections, and war veterans have shared their own burn stories.

And within the span of a few minutes Saturday, Maviglia spoke with a family that wanted to see inside the fire truck (they could), a retired cop who wanted to know how much he makes (he couldn’t) and a retired first-grade teacher.

The woman recalled when a firefighter had visited the classroom and made her put on a coat that was “so heavy.”

“Ma’am, everything in the fire department is heavy,” Maviglia said as he went to get more stickers.

Except possibly the hearts of the firefighters who raised $2,725 in a couple hours with old boots.

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