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HELPERS: Firefighters association sparks change for those in need

Taking support of the community beyond the frontlines, the 120 members of Central York Professional Firefighters Association support local charities through popular events like their biannual boot drive

Giving someone the boot isn’t often a good thing – but in the case of Central York Professional Firefighters Association, the official representative of Newmarket and Aurora’s Central York Fire Services, the gesture is one of good will.

That’s because its members – today numbering around 120 across five different stations – have been supporting Muscular Dystrophy Canada through their biannual Fill the Boot boot drive for decades – raising thousands of dollars to enhance the lives of those affected by neuromuscular disorders and search for a cure.

Recognizable by the telltale boots members use to collect change outside local businesses — and, of course, their uniforms — Central York Professional Firefighters Association volunteers have become a popular feature of holiday shopping.

In addition to Muscular Dystrophy Canada, the popular fundraiser also supports the Newmarket Food Pantry, Aurora Food Pantry, Inn from the Cold, Yellow Brick House, Abuse Hurts and more.

“We collect thousands and thousands of dollars a year by standing out there in all types of weather — snow, mud, cold temperatures,” said Shaun Mitchell, senior firefighter with Central York Fire Services. “And we have such a great network to make sure that money gets to where it needs to go the most.”

Mitchell, a hazmat captain and 25-year veteran with the department, has been supporting local charities through the Central York Professional Firefighters Association since his very first day on the job in 1997. Soon heading for retirement, he’s looking forward to “handing down” the tradition of charity — just as his predecessor did before him.

“People ask me why I love my job so much,” said Mitchell. “The number 1 thing I love about my job is the ability to give back and do the charity work we do.”

Though their most popular event, the boot drive isn’t the only way Central York Professional Firefighters Association gives back the community. In addition to helping local groups, emergency services and charities promote events, collect donations and sell tickets, they also hold charity car washes in the summer and recently hosted an event in support of Inn from the Cold.

To ensure the funds they raise go to the most deserving charities, Central York Professional Firefighters Association has a committee of five firefighters with “ears out in the community” who work together to review the charities most in need.

To date, Mitchell estimates they’ve donated $100,000 – approximately $10,000 each year.

“When times are tough and there’s any group out there asking for money, we are the number 1 trusted profession anywhere,” said Mitchell. “People feel comfortable giving us their hard-earned dollars knowing we’re the middlemen to get it to these local charities.”

Next on Central York Professional Firefighters Association’s plate is their Thanksgiving boot drive, taking place Oct. 7. Those who wish to donate their change — or support through tap — can help fill the signature boots at the Real Canadian Superstore plaza in Aurora (15900 Bayview Ave).

“If you keep it local and keep it in your community, you’re impacting the people that you’re dealing with on a daily basis,” said Mitchell. “And then, hopefully, we can make our community better and stronger that way.”