MANCHESTER, NH – Children swarmed the Beech Street playground for morning recess Friday, most of them bundled up with coats, hats and gloves against the November cold.
Most were dressed for the weather, but not all.
Meanwhile, an assembly line of firefighters pulled up in pick-up trucks and efficiently unloaded boxes full of warm winter coats for students who could use a little “warmth, confidence and hope,” the motto of Operation Warm, a national initiative to get new coats to kids in need.
The gesture of goodwill is an annual ritual for Manchester Firefighters Association IAFF Local 856, now in it’s fifth year here. The program has provided millions of coats for kids around the country, including 2,500 right here in Manchester over the years, made possible thanks to the diligent fundraising efforts of the firefighters and the generosity of local donors who this year contributed more than $18,000 for the cause.
After a year of fundraising, Friday was delivery day with two stops – Gossler Park and Beech Street School – strategic coat drop locations which allowed representatives from other city schools to stop by to pick up coats for their students, as well.
Once the boxes were in place in front of the school, a group of kids emerged from the building, some with fleece sweatshirts and lightweight clothing underneath, others with short-sleeved shirts – all of them eyeing the colorful array of brand new coats they had to choose from.
MPFFA President Jeff Duval knelt down next to a student and lifted a pink-and-yellow jacket from a box.
“Let’s try this one,” Duval said, in a jolly dad voice, angling the sleeve just so as the little girl slipped her arm inside. It was a perfect match for her sparkly pink hijab. “Beautiful!,” said Duval, “This coat is yours.”
Nearby another firefighter was seeking a second opinion as he wavered between a pink coat and a purple one in different sizes for another student.
“Can someone with kids tell me if this is big enough?” said the firefighter, eyeballing the sleeves as the little girl looked for affirmation, or maybe wishing for a mirror.
Two coats later the hive-mind of firefighters had settled on just the right size – big enough to zip up over a sweatshirt with room in the sleeves to grow.