Students and staff at Akron’s Crouse Community Learning Center (K-6) were all fired up at noon Thursday, and with good reason.
Some 50 firefighters and EMTs from Akron Firefighters Local 330 were on hand to surprise and gift each child with a new jacket.
The is the second year Matt Coleman, an Akron firefighter for five years, has organized a Coats for Kids/Operation Warm giveaway. Last year’s recipient was Leggett School.
Coleman addressed the 440 eager children and staff assembled before him in the school gymnasium, telling them about their early holiday presents, inviting them to go outside for a close-up view of firetrucks and emergency vehicles, then return to the cafeteria for ice cream.
Well, you can’t get much cooler than that, as was underscored by the students’ nearly ear-shattering applause.
The down-filled jackets were bought with generous donations of $50,000 each from Gov. John Kasich’s Office of Faith-based and Community Initiatives and the Figgie Family Charitable Foundation. The local Italian-American Society also kicked in $1,500.
Coleman was especially proud to announce that all of the jackets — charcoal, royal blue and army green for the boys and raspberry, bright pink and purple for the girls — were made in America: “We’re all about keeping jobs here.”
In order to keep the lid on the surprise, teachers had quietly measured each student to ensure a good fit.
“It was brought to our attention that some of you [students] haven’t been making it to school because of the cold weather,” was how Coleman introduced the giveaway. “These new jackets should help you come to school every day and help you become a success in life.”
Coleman thanked Russ Brode and Phil Gauer for their behind-the-scenes efforts. Brode is vice president of Local 330 and Gauer is 2nd district vice president of the Ohio Association of Professional Firefighters.
Ohio Lt. Governor Mary Taylor reminded the students that firefighters — not musicians and celebrities — are “our real heroes.”
She added, “If you work hard in school and get good grades maybe some of you will be firefighters one day.”
Debbie Martinko, executive director of Coats for Kids, said this is the first year her agency has partnered with the Akron firefighters. The agency also partnered with firefighters in Euclid, Elyria and Cleveland to distribute jackets to low-income schools.
Renee Koerner — program development manager for the Pennsylvania-based Operation Warm — said the partnership with the firefighters offers the perfect vehicle for coat distribution. Firefighters “know all of the neighborhoods and where the need is the greatest. Their hearts are in the right place and they’re great ambassadors for our mission … Across the country, they have skin in the game.”
Operation Warm, which has only 12 employees in the Pennsylvania office, operates in 150 communities nationwide.
Akron’s Billy Soule, assistant to the mayor for community relations, also was on hand to cheer the effort, saying he has grandchildren at Crouse School.
Kindergartners Antonio Cook and Harold Wright were all smiles as the firefighters assisted them in putting on their new jackets.
Once outside, the children were even more generous with their hugs as they went about inspecting the fire equipment, even trying on their turnout gear. Second-grade teacher Matthew Frlich was just as wide-eyed as the kids: “I’ve never seen half of this stuff up close myself.”
Principal Angela Harper-Brooks said she is indebted to the firefighters for selecting her school to receive the gift of warmth: “It’s awesome. And our students are so happy … It meant a lot to them that it was the firefighters who passed out the coats and that they got to tour the firetruck.”
Matt Coleman made only one request of the students: “When you outgrow your jacket, make sure you give it to someone else in your family or a friend.”
They only disappointment echoed by a couple of the students was this: “Why didn’t you bring the big, black-and-white spotted dogs?”
“Well, we don’t have any,” a firefighter broke the sad news about the Dalmatian breed that’s been long recognized as firehouse mascots. Dalmatians date back to when horse-drawn carriages delivered fire apparatus and the dogs would run alongside, keeping pace with the horses and keeping other dogs away.
The firefighters from Local 330 earlier delivered nearly 100 jackets to Akron’s Findley Community Learning Center, which has a large population of immigrant students from warm-weather climates. Thirty-five coats also went to Project RISE (Realizing Individual Strength through Education) for homeless children.
The firefighters will surprise yet another Akron public school this morning with jackets.
And they’ll be eyewitnesses again to just how cool it is to bring the gift of warmth to children who need it most!
Jewell Cardwell can be reached at 330-996-3567 or email@example.com.