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Camp for child burn victims struggles as donations decrease

Donations to the camp are down more than 70%

ATLANTA — Kids severely burned in fires come together each summer for a camp with other children who have survived similar injuries.

They talk about the physical differences they now have from their peers and find strategies to deal with bullying and ongoing treatments. 

It's offered free of charge for the families by the Georgia Firefighter Burn Foundation, a nonprofit supported by local firefighters. 

Recently, donations to that nonprofit have plummeted during the COVID pandemic, down more than 70%, and there's it could impact the camp that means so much to so many families. 

"I'm a 70% burn survivor, over 70% of my body. And after getting out I didn't know what life held for me because I didn't see other people like me, I didn't know other people who got burned," survivor and Executive Director of the Georgia Firefighter Burn Foundation Dennis J. Gardin said. 

While he's outspoken now, he says he didn't leave the house for two years after his injury. 

"I was ashamed of how I looked and hiding in the house, and seeing how my family struggled with it. But now today, it doesn't have to happen," he explained.

The Georgia Firefighter Burn Foundation had to host its camp virtually last year because of the pandemic. 

According to Gardin, "injuries didn't stop, fires didn't stop happening, the fire department is busier than ever," but what has slowed down are donations. 

"With this pandemic, if I'm really honest, we don't know what the impact is going to be," he added. 

That uncertainty has been hard for Decatur Fire Chief Toni Washington, who works to support the foundation. 

"It's really difficult knowing you can't do something that you used to provide and it's affecting the community you serve," she said. 

Chief Washington put 300 pinwheels outside the Decatur Fire Station to show how many survivors came through Grady's Burn Unit last year alone. 

"Because of the stay-at-home orders, there were more burn injuries, because kids were home, so incidents of fire in the home went up," Gardin added. 

They're hoping they can raise the money before the summer of 2022 to make sure the kids who need it most get to go to camp.