Filling the Boot
A new proposal being considered by Alachua County commissioners could severely limit firefighters in their annual drive to collect money for Jerry's Kids in an attempt to make streets safer for drivers and pedestrians.
"We're out there trying to help kids and adults who are affected by muscular dystrophy and who cannot do the things that you and I do on an daily basis," Alachua County Fire Rescue's Chad Smith explained.
Last year, Alachua County Fire Rescue personnel collected almost $38,000.00 for research and treatment, but if the new ordinance is passed, firefighters will not be able to fill their boots with donations along intersections throughout the county.
"I understand the reasoning for their ordinance and wanting to keep the panhandlers off the street, but for the last 54 years, firefighters across the United States have been out on intersections throughout the U.S. collecting for the M.D.A."
Gainesville City commissioners recently passed a similar ordinance against panhandling and begging on city streets. According to Commissioner Ed Braddy, the ordinance's original intent is working.
"The conditions on our roadways are much safer now than they were a two months ago or even one month ago," Braddy said. "So in that sense, it's worked out quite well."
Braddy said the ordinance is not against the M.D.A. or firefighters' efforts to help, but it was important for the act to be balanced.
"We have to pass an ordinance that is fair and that treats all parties equally, so we did our part," Braddy explained.
Unlike past years, Gainesville firefighters will collect in money parking lots this Labor Day instead of street intersections.
According to Smith, the C0-Chair for Fire Rescue Professionals of Alachua County's Boot Drive Campaign, if the county commissioners pass a county-wide ban, he hopes "filling the boot" will be protected by Florida's Iris Roberts Act, but if not, county firefighters will take up the issue with the commissioners.
"We would most definitely fight it and see what we can do to continue to collect on the intersections," Smith said.
Rather than collecting three days in a row, Alachua County Fire Rescue personnel will collect on September 1st, 15th and 29th. Their goal is raise $45,000. Collection points can be found at intersections in the unincorporated areas of Alachua County.
By Ted Latiak, WCJB TV20 News.
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