Left to right, students in the pre-service firefighting program at Algonquin College: Ashley McKenny, Brooke Congdon and Cheryl Coulas. Photo credit: Ashley McKenny

The pre-service firefighting program’s annual Boot Drive avoided cancellation and went virtual thanks to the initiative of program leader Ashley McKenny.

As fate would have it, the pandemic pushed the pre-service program from June 2020 to December 2020, creating a unique opportunity wherein students in the program could run the fundraiser twice.

“Because we did it last year, I thought, why can’t we do it this year, even if it’s not in person?” McKenny said. She then reached out to Chief Cheryl Hardwick, her instructor, about the novel idea of having a virtual fundraiser.

The Boot Drive fundraiser started three years ago and served as a way to show students what can be done in an hour. The response from the college community has always been incredible, Hardwick wrote in an email to the Times.

McKenny organized last year’s in-person Boot Drive so that when she approached Chief Hardwick, it was an easy yes.

Next, she reached out to Jessica Clark, coordinator of the Food Cupboard — who was immediately on board. Due to the pandemic or other circumstances, the Food Cupboard has seen twice the students this past summer than in the previous year. Clark said they are doing what they can to adapt and was eager to help out with the initiative.

In conversation, Clark highlighted the creativity of the pre-service students in past years as well as this year. “It just blows my mind, she said, adding that last year, the students went out in their firefighting gear. “It’s such a visually eye-catching thing.”

“And Ashley specifically, has reached out to me two years in a row to start the initiative,” she said. The Virtual Boot Drive was her brainchild.

Preparation for the event took two weeks.

McKenny and her co-coordinator Cheryl Coulas, who acted as a second voice, worked on getting the two groups of 20 students motivated. Posts on social media had to be shared with friends and family.

McKenny and Coulas shared it with media organizations such as CTV News and Magic 100, who reposted their event.

The process, McKenny admitted, was harder than she had expected compared to the previous Boot Drive. Last year, the two platoons fanned out across the campus soliciting donations during a lunch hour. Within the span of two hours, the students managed to raise $1,600 for the Food Cupboard. This is in stark contrast to this year’s Virtual Boot Drive which is in the second week of its three-week run.

Although the prolonged fundraising was McKenny’s idea, she intuitively understood how the fundraiser would play out. “You can’t compare the two,” McKenny said. “But even if we just get over $1,000, I think that would be a huge help.” The fundraiser has raised over $800 so far.

The Virtual Boot Drive is on now and continues until Oct. 28, 2020. Find more information here.