MANCHESTER, NH – Fighting fires is only one facet of how our firefighters make the city a better place.
A newer tradition among our city’s firefighters includes fighting the cold by providing brand new coats for kids, who might otherwise not have the chance to pick and choose one. For the fourth year in a row, members of IAFF Local 856 participated in Operation Warm and this year raised $18,000 which translated to 528 “union-made in the USA” hooded winter coats delivered to two drop-off points on Wednesday – Gossler Park on the West Side and Beech Street School on the East Side.
Representatives from a total of seven city schools picked up boxes to distribute 369 of the coats at their respective schools – 80 at Beech Street; 60 each at Northwest and Gossler; 54 at Wilson; 50 at Bakersville; 40 at Parker Varney; and 25 at McDonough.
In helping one student gear up outside Beech Street School, Jeff Duval, president of Manchester Professional Firefighters Association, got to flex his fatherly fashion muscles a little.
“How’s that feel?” Duval asked the boy, who was one small growth spurt away from Hulking out of the charcoal coat with lime accents he’d originally picked. “You wanna try the next size, just to see how it feels?” Duval said knowingly, pulling another a larger version of the same coat from one of the boxes, with just the right balance of Ward Cleaver meets the Shamwow guy.
Of course, Duval was right. It was a much better fit for the boy, who stretched out his arms and then buried his hands in his pockets, looking up at Duval in full smile mode.
“Would I steer you wrong?” Duval says.
Locally, Operation Warm has distributed about 500 coats annually, give or take, to kids in need, including outreach to organizations like Families in Transition, The Way Home and the Bring It after school program. Since 2012, the partnership nationally between Operation Warm and IAFF unions has provided new winter coats to 250,000 children, identified as recipients based on circumstances that vary – from meeting reduced lunch guidelines to family circumstances known only to school social workers.
“Sometimes it’s just a child who comes to school without a coat,” says Jaime Hoebeke, of the city’s Health Department, who heads the city’s Neighborhood Health initiative.
Coats left over after initial distribution through schools will be matched to Salvation Army Santa Fund coat requests, or other area outreaches, Hoebeke says.
Donations to support the coat drive came from individuals, members of Manchester Police and Fire departments, and significant donations from the Bean Foundation, Dunkin Donuts and GN Fencing, owned by retired Manchester firefighter Kirt Janelle.
Manchester Fire Capt. Jon Starr says when it comes to seeking community support, Operation Warm is an easy ask.
“People like to give to a cause like this one because there’s a direct effect – they can see the coats on the kids each year,” Starr says. “We reached our goal of distributing 500 coats, although we could probably do more if we started fundraising sooner. This year there were a lot of different organizations seeking help for other good causes, including hurricane relief and opioid clinics, so we don’t want to interfere with other initiatives. Like I said, we made our goal, which is enough to cover the schools and some other programs.”
Beech Street School Assistant Principal Kelly Espinola said being on the receiving end of coats reaffirms the warmth of the community at large when it comes to caring for kids.
“It reinforces the fact that it takes a village to raise the children of our community, and that we all continue to work together as a team to create the best opportunities for our schools,” Espinola says. “This is a fantastic opportunity for our students.”