On one of the chilliest mornings of the school year, students at Washington Park Elementary School received brand new winter coats, thanks to the help of Washington firefighters and other community partners.
As part of a national nonprofit campaign, Operation Warm, partners with fire departments across the nation raised funds for new coats for children in need. Locally, Washington firefighters have been passing out coats at the elementary school every October for 10 years, as part of Operation Warm.
“The firefighters come in and we have the kids come to the gym,” said Washington Park School Principal Kelley Zebrasky. “Then the kids get in line and get their coats, which are so nice and warm with several different colors for boys and girls.”
This year the program served students in kindergarten through second grade who were in need of a new winter jacket. She said out of the 460 students in those grade levels, they passed out about 250 coats.
“We offer it to parents,” Zebrasky said. “Those that are in need accept it, and those that don’t need it pay it forward.”
Zebrasky said about 70 percent of students in the Title 1 school come from economically disadvantaged homes.
“The kids love them and are very excited and thankful that they’re able to get a brand new coat with the tags still on them,” Zebrasky said.
She said the school has partnered with the fire department and Operation Warm for the last 10 years.
“It’s been an invaluable partnership,” she said.
The firefighters are happy to do it, according to city firefighter Dan Grossman, who facilitates the program through their firefighters union, Local 2218.
“We don’t do this because we have to,” he said. “A lot of us live here, and we want what’s best for this town. We have a vested interest.”
Grossman said the 21 members of the union get started earlier in the year raising money from key community partners, individuals and businesses. The coats typically cost $21 each, Zebrasky said.
Whatever funds the firefighters raise, Grossman said EQT provides a match. Before he orders the coats, Grossman said the school sizes the students to make sure they all fit.
“We’re basically a go-between for Operation Warm and the school,” he said.
Tuesday morning, they passed out the coats and got a collective “thank you” and a thumbs-up from the students.
“Sometimes when kids see a fire truck, they’re having their absolute worst day,” Grossman said. “This is the least we can do for this community.”
Zebrasky said the firefighters partner with the school for other events, too, like Fire Prevention Week and toy collections for Christmas.
“The previous fire chief, (Linn) Brookman, really was committed to the fire department being a part of our district, and now, Chief (Gerald) Coleman has picked up right where he left off,” Zebrasky said. “They come and do fire safety for kindergarten and first grade. They let the kids tour the fire truck, and they go over fire safety things with the kids so that it’s a real life experience.”