Dec 19, 2012 (Puyallup Herald (Puyallup - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) --
With temperatures dropping and snow making an appearance in the weather forecast, Central Pierce Fire and Rescue couldn't have come at a more opportune time to distribute coats to children at Waller Road and Woodland elementary schools.
On Tuesday, Dec. 18, a dozen Central Pierce on-duty and off-duty fire personnel distributed more than 600 coats between the two schools as part of Firefighters Coats for Kids, a new national program endorsed by the International Association of Firefighters in partnership with Operation Warm, a nonprofit providing warm coats to children in need across the U.S. and Canada.
"We know that there are a lot of people out there who need help," said Dennis Lawson, 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 that represents 8,000 union firefighters across the state. Several weeks ago the council was presented the opportunity to partner with Operation Warm and the idea was embraced, Lawson said.
"We're really one of the first districts on the west coast to do this," Lawson added.
A generous donation of $20,000 from the Gary E. Milgard Family Foundation and $15,00 donated from the council helped to purchase the coats for distribution in the Puyallup School District.
On Dec. 18, school districts in Seattle, Spokane and Puyallup all benefited.
Central Pierce firefighters distributed 337 coats to students in grades first through fifth grades at Woodland Elementary School. Eighty-five families at Woodland deferred coats to other students in need. At Waller Road Elementary School 283 coasts were distributed with seven families deferring.
According to the Puyallup School District coats were distributed to students regardless of need. However, families had the option to defer if they were not in need of a coat.
In January, another set of coats will be distributed to students at Spinning elementary. Any other coats left over after that distribution will be given to other elementary students in need.
For Eric Molver, principal at Woodland Elementary School, Central Pierce distributing coats to students was a huge 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 that just a couple weeks ago he noticed one day two students walking in the dark and cold to school. He asked them why they didn't have coats on. The students told him they didn't have coats to wear.
"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 that many of the families at Woodland are facing tough times and that providing a new winter coat helps relieve a little pressure on the family and allows them to pay their bills and get by financially.
Woodland and Waller Road were both selected because of the high percentage of students at the school whose families are in need. These schools also 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 hope to continue the Firefighters Coats for Kids year and after year and make it an annual event.
Reporter Andrew Fickes can be reached at 253-552-7001 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter, @herald_andrew.
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