GREENBURGH, N.Y. – Greenburgh firefighters raised more than $10,000 for the Muscular Dystrophy Association in a June “Fill the Boot” drive outside a pair of Central Avenue stores, the group announced this week.
The semi-annual drives, which began nearly two decades ago, help to raise roughly $25,000 per year, said Robert Mentrasti, secretary of the Greenburgh Unifrom Firefighters, Local #1586.
“This is only possible because of your continued support and commitment,” the department wrote in a thank-you letter to the Greenburgh community.
The boot drives began 17 years ago when several Greenburgh firefighters met a 5-year-old Maryland boy named Matthew Stepanek, or Mattie, at an annual charity softball tournament for muscular dystrophy.
The boy, who suffered from the disease, would later go on to create seven New York Times best-selling books - six books of poetry, including "Heartsongs," and a book of essays - and become a world peace activist. Stepanek inspired the firefighters so much they decided to start their own fundraiser in Greenburgh.
“He’s the reason why the Greenburgh firefighters got involved with muscular dystrophy,” Mentrasti said.
As the years passed, Mentrasti kept in constant contact with Stepanek and his family, even attending "The Oprah Winfrey Show" in 2001 with the boy, whose poetry made him something of a celebrity. Three years later, just weeks shy of his 14th birthday, Stepanek passed away. Mentrasti attended the boy’s funeral in Maryland and acted as a pall bearer in the procession.
“He was an amazing young man,” Mentrasti said. “Even with all medical ailments he had an amazing outlook on life. He left an everlasting impression on us and we all got very attached and very involved.”
Since their first meeting with Stepanek, the department has raised tens of thousands of dollars for the Muscular Dystrophy Association with their boot drives. In the past eight years alone, the group has raised more than $140,000, Mentrasti said.
In December, the firefighters will be back on the streets, boots in hand, collecting money. Mentrasti pledged the department will continue to raise money until a cure for the disease is found.
“We have gotten to know people who this disease has affected on a personal level and we will remain very active,” he said.