With temperatures dropping and snow making an appearance in the weather forecast, Central Pierce Fire and Rescue personnel distributed coats last week to children at Waller Road and Woodland elementary schools.
A dozen Central Pierce staff members distributed more than 600 coats Dec. 18 between the two schools as part of Firefighters Coats for Kids, a national program endorsed by the International Association of Firefighters in partnership with Operation Warm, a nonprofit organization that provides coats to children in need across the United States and Canada.
“We know that there are a lot of people out there who need help,” said Dennis Lawson, a battalion chief for Central Pierce Fire and Rescue. “The smiles on the children’s faces were amazing.”
Lawson is the vice president of the Washington State Council of Firefighters, which represents 8,000 firefighters statewide. Several weeks ago, the council was presented with an opportunity to partner with Operation Warm, Lawson said.
“We’re really one of the first districts on the West Coast to do this,” he said.
A $20,000 donation from the Gary E. Milgard Family Foundation, and $15,000 donated from the council helped to purchase the coats for the Puyallup School District distribution.
School districts in Seattle, Spokane and Puyallup all benefited last week.
Central Pierce firefighters distributed 337 coats to students in grades one through five at Woodland Elementary. Eighty-five families at Woodland deferred coats to other students in need. At Waller Road Elementary, 283 coasts were distributed. Seven families deferred to others.
Another set of coats will be distributed next month to students at Spinning Elementary. Any left over will be given to other elementary students in need.
Woodland Elementary Principal Eric Molver said the distribution was a big deal.
“Watching that whole experience and seeing that one-to-one interaction between the students and local firemen was just so cool to see,” Molver said. “There were big smiles and really wide-eyed children.”
Molver said he saw two students walk to school in the dark and cold weather just a few weeks ago. He asked them why they didn’t have coats on, and the students told him they didn’t one.
“I decided we needed to figure out a way to get coats to these kids,” Molver said. “And then, the next day, I got a call from Dennis. How amazing the timing of that phone call was. It’s just uncanny that his phone call came in at that time.”
Molver said many of the families at Woodland are facing tough times and that providing a new winter coat can help to relieve a little financial pressure.
Woodland and Waller Road both were selected because of the high percentage of students whose families are in need. Both schools receive federal funding to provide students with extra help in reading and math.
At Woodland, for example, Molver said about 45 percent of the school population qualifies for free or reduced lunch.
Lawson said he and Central Pierce Fire and Rescue personnel hope to continue the Firefighters Coats for Kids annually.Reporter Andrew Fickes can be reached at 253-552-7001 or by email at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter, @herald_andrew.