Firefighters donate 183 new coats to STEM School students
As our community prepares for its first winter storm, Richfield’s local fire union, Local 1215, was intent on keeping its youngest residents in mind with Operation Warm.
This annual event was held Tuesday morning, November 26, at the Richfield S.T.E.M. School and saw Richfield firefighters and Local 1215 distribute 183 winter coats to Richfield kids in kindergarten and first grades.
This is the fourth year that Local 1215 participated in the nationally-organized event. Their work on Operation Warm began when the group wanted to shift some of its charitable efforts from muscular dystrophy research to something more local to Richfield’s youngest residents.
In previous years, firefighters distributed coats to students at Centennial Elementary, Sheridan Hills Elementary, and the Dual Language School.
“Staying warm in the winter is an often-overlooked need that many of us take for granted”, said firefighters Mark Watczak, Richfield’s Operation Warm coordinator. “Handing out coats is simply a way to promote awareness and even give some kids a boost in self-confidence.”
“The first year we handed out coats, I heard one of the kids saying he had never had a new coat before,” recalled Watczak. “That moment really spoke volumes to me, and I immediately recognized the impact of this program.”
Additionally, this year the city’s firefighters partnered with the Richfield Rotary Club in their efforts to keep kids warm. The Rotarians, along with corporate sponsor CBRE, handed out hats and mittens during Operation Warm to ensure the kids were fully outfitted for the cold weather ahead.
Operation Warm is a nationally organized movement that helps communities mobilize and distribute coats to children in need. The nonprofit manufactures and distributes more than two million coats throughout the nation each year through community partners.
Firefighters have always been an important part of Operation Warm who locally organize fundraisers and solicit donations that go towards purchasing the coats which are then distributed.
“The overarching mission of Operation Warm’s is that every child wearing a new winter coat is warm, feels valued, and is empowered to get to school and gain an education,” explained Watczak.
“Here in Richfield, we have a community rich with diversity and with diverse needs,” said Watczak. “We are handing out coats to children, not because every child in Richfield needs a new coat, but because we believe in making this an opportunity for building an inclusive community.”
Since Richfield firefighters started participating in Operation Warm, they have donated more than 500 coats to public school students of all ages throughout the city.