Operation Warm keeps kids in coats

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Some 450 Washington Park Elementary School students are now prepared to fight off winter’s chill.


Head Start, preschool and students in kindergarten through third grade filled the school’s gymnasium in anticipation of receiving a free new winter coat thanks to Washington Firefighters Union Local 2218’s participation in Operation Warm, a program designed to provide winter coats for needy children. To be eligible for a free coat, students had to have been on the free or reduced lunch program.


“This gives us something to truly be thankful for,” said Principal Kelley Zebrasky, who spoke while directing a line of children to the tables covered with piles of new coats in a range of colors and sizes. “We don’t want to see a child go without a winter coat.”


Fire engineer John Riley, who serves as union president, said the city became aware of Operation Warm from its fellow union members in Pittsburgh.


“The City of Pittsburgh was the first local organization in the country to distribute coats, and we will be the second to do the same,” said Riley, who said the firefighters hope to make the coat distribution an annual event.


The coats were purchased by EQT Foundation for Operation Warm, which anticipates giving free coats to more than 220,000 children nationwide this year.


While the adults were more than pleased with Tuesday’s event, it was the smiles on the children’s faces that truly warmed the school gym.


Anna Hyslep, 7, nodded “yes” when asked if she’ll be warm this winter as she proudly showed off her purple jacket.


Meanwhile, 8-year-old Gavin Washington pouted briefly because he wanted a green coat rather than the bright blue one he had been given.


But after he mentioned his dissatisfaction, volunteers quickly found him a green coat that brought a smile to his face. Just as Gavin’s former coat was placed back on the table, his classmate Marcus Chapman, 7, spoke up and said he’d rather the blue coat than the black and beige one that he was wearing.


Overall, Riley said every child seemed to walk away happy. “The reaction was fabulous,” he said.


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