Off-road or on-road for charity

North Charleston Fire Department Engineer Dennis Babcock collects money for Carolina Children's Charity on Tuesday afternoon on Aviation Avenue.

What goes in the boot helps sick children in the Lowcountry.

It's Boot Drive week for Carolina Children's Charity, and firefighters are out in force with their bunker boots collecting donations. The week culminates Sunday with a live telethon on WCBD-TV Channel 2.

Each February, the week-long effort pulls in hundreds of thousands of dollars to pay for medication, equipment, therapy, camps and more for children with diseases and birth defects.

Last year, Charleston and North Charleston officials discussed the safety of firefighters standing at intersections to collect money and decided to end the practice. But much has changed in a year.

The country is in a recession, and charities are not only having trouble raising money but the demand for services has increased, as well.

With that in mind, North Charleston has reversed its decision and has put more than 50 firefighters on the street each day at major intersections throughout the city. They raised more than $40,000 last year and hope to top that this year, Battalion Chief Eric Phillips said.

"What we do is so important for that organization," he said. "The charity, that's the bulk of their income, and we want to help out in any way we can."

Charleston firefighters won't be on the streets this year, but they will be working the parking lots of some major shopping centers. Mount Pleasant does the same thing. Mandatory training sessions for both fire departments will interfere with the charity collections some days, but firefighters hope to make up the difference later in the week.

Charleston firefighters also will raise money for the charity on March 22, when they face off with New York City firefighters in a hockey game at 7 p.m. at the North Charleston Coliseum. A portion of ticket sales for upper-level seats will be donated to the children's organization.

Other local fire departments have found ways to contribute without being at intersections. Ashley River Fire Department on Dorchester Road, for example, erected a sign asking passersby to stop in and give.

The big tally will come Sunday during the telethon, when firefighters bring in the boots stuffed with cash and dump them into wheelbarrows.

Lowcountry residents also can contribute during the televised event, which includes entertainment by local bands and musicians and segments featuring the children who benefit from the donations.

Sonya Beale, executive director of Carolina Children's Charity, said she won't know the true effect of the slow economy until Sunday.

"But you have to stay positive that it will turn out the way it needs to. We will do the best that we can do with whatever money we make this week," she said.

Beale said more than half of all the contributions are raised by Lowcountry fire departments.

"Firefighters are the heart of Carolina Children's Charity," she said.

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