Syracuse Fire Fighters Making Lasting Community Impact for Children in Need

For more than five years, Operation Warm has received unparalleled support from the International Association of Fire Fighters (IAFF) teams from across the country, bringing more than 250,000 winter coats to children in need. Because Operation Warm provides brand new coats, rather than used garments that are typically donated during a coat drive, its need is much different – and often much greater – than other non-profit organizations. Operation Warm believes that, for a child, a new winter coat is more than just a piece of outerwear; it can help improve self-confidence, increase school attendance and promote overall wellness.

How the Program Got Started

The Syracuse City IAFF Local 280 fire fighters connected with Operation Warm in 2017. In an interview with Operation Warm, Local 280 fire fighter and executive board member Maurice Gilbert says that the group targeted their efforts toward the PEACE Inc. Early/Headstart Program at a local school with approximately 170 students ranging from two to five years old. This program introduces free education to children too young for full-time school and bridges the gap for families unable to afford other daycare options.

“Syracuse Local 280 Vice President Rocco Morganti discovered the program and brought the idea to the executive board with the purpose of doing something to directly benefit our community,” said Gilbert. Local 280 was determined to include every student in their donation, so they set a goal of $4,000 to cover the nearly 200 new children’s winter coats. Gilbert says the fire fighters knew it was a high goal, but were confident in their fundraising abilities and their local community members generosity.

Going Above and Beyond

As they wrap up their Operation Warm partnership just a few months later, they have surpassed their goal, raising more than $6,500 through three channels: a match program, donations from Local 280 members, and donations from the community. With the additional funds, the group was able to distribute knit hats, gloves and mittens for the PEACE, Inc. children to wear with their new coats.

Delivering a Gift of Warmth

To distribute the items, members of the Local 280 went to each classroom at PEACE, Inc. with Operation Warm coat-sizing kits to share the exciting news that each student would be getting a new coat. On the day of the coat give-away, the fire fighters filled the school’s gymnasium with all of the donations and each member walked around with a child to choose the coat they wanted.

“It was really great to see the tallest firefighters without hesitation kneeling right down to the same level as the children and walking hand-in-hand with them through the coat area to the hats and lastly to the check-out table to have their names written in their new coats,” Gilbert shared.

Firefighters Get Inspired

“Seeing our community give generously, knowing that 100% of the funds went directly to purchasing coats for the children, really inspired the giving spirit.” Gilbert also noted that he, along with the rest of his fellow firefighters, appreciated the unique opportunity to give back. “The Local 280 and Operation Warm partnership showed how important it is to take time to remember our youngest members of our community. Firefighters typically only see children at emergencies, so it was special for us to be able to spend time enjoying their smiles on a very happy and heartwarming occasion.”

“Thank you for creating a program that allows fire fighters to give back to their community in such a positive and uplifting way,” Gilbert said. The IAFF Local 280 has already set a goal to double the number of new coats donated for next year.

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