Tumwater Fire Fighters Support Their Community with a Little Help from Their Friends


Local 2409 fire fighters aim for $100,000 in lifetime fundraising donations for Operation Warm Coats for Kids in their community.

Donovan Cathey has got to be one of the friendliest fire fighters we have met, and that is saying something. The Fire Fighters for Operation Warm Community Heroes coordinator has been rallying the community of Tumwater, Washington for the last seven years with a soft laugh and a genuine passion for helping his fellow Tumwaterites. The goal: to help the community support as many of their children in need as possible through the gift of warm, brand new coats. He says he is motivated by the kids and his community, and equally proud of both.

About Tumwater

Tumwater is a beautiful area of Washington State, steeped in rich traditions, some of which can date back to its original incorporation in 1869. Seated at the base of the Deschutes River, it features a stunning view of the majestic Mount Rainier mountain, a cascading waterfall and a historic old brew house. Before it closed in 2003, the Olympia Brewery provided jobs for many of the area’s residents. The US Census estimates that 9.7% of the population live in poverty.

“It is not a big town,” Cathey says, “but it has a lot of history. The community is pretty tight knit.”

Supporting the Community Need

 Cathey and his team of supporters see and respond to the need first hand each year, travelling to multiple schools and organizations to support the children with brand new coats. “We essentially gave away 900 coats last year,” he says. “We got around a lot last year,” he laughingly adds.

“It is pretty special when we can meet a little kid and they tell us that they don’t have a coat and that they needed this and they were looking forward to it.” Cathey says. “To us, it is not a big deal, but to the kids it’s a huge deal. In our part of the world it rains six to eight months out of the year. A coat is very important.”

Cathey and his team learned about using Operation Warm’s Coats for Kids program to address the needs of their community from a state fire fighter event. “I heard from our seventh district (IAFF) VP Ricky Walsh that the IAFF (International Association of Firefighters Union) had started a partnership with Operation Warm to raise money to give away new coats to kids in need. I thought, ‘this is something we could get into.’ I thought this would be an opportunity for us to be more involved in the community.”

Large Fundraising in a Small Town

 “We sat down and put together a plan together. Essentially, we went door to door to businesses and not only were we asking them to support our program, but we were getting our face out there to those community members who may not necessarily see us unless they call 911,” he says. “So, not only were we getting out there talking to people and letting people know about the program, but the community was getting to know us as well.”

Cathey says the Fire Fighters for Operation Warm program was a good fit for them. “The fire department has been part of the community for a long time. I think it feels natural, it feels good when you have a cause that people can stand behind, and people can see the benefits of it. They are quick to do that,” he says. “It is easy for the community to get behind a cause that makes sense to them. They can see the benefit to those who need it.”

During 2013, their first year, the Tumwater Fire Fighters raised more than $7,000 for their program. This year, they’ve raised nearly $25,000 and are not done, yet. “Just from the start in 2013 and now the seventh year of doing it, the support has really ballooned,” Cathey says. If they make their goal, they could break the $100,000 lifetime fundraising mark for their coat program.

Tips for Fire Fighter Fundraising Success

“It is just about relationship building,” Cathey says. “It is about building those relationships and how can we help one another, and how can we help those who definitely need it.” The relationships Cathey and the Tumwater Fire Fighters built in that first year of their program keep the program flourishing year after year. “They are always trying to help us figure out ways that we can be more successful and raise more money so we can give more,” he says. “They’ve really rallied around the program and what we’ve been doing. It is pretty cool that we are able to do this sort of thing.”

Their local program includes support from:

  • The local bar, which also holds fundraising events
  • Banks and credit unions
  • Small businesses
  • Many community workers and individuals.

Partnering for the Future

Another thing these fire fighters do for a successful program is to partner with other established nonprofit organizations. “We partnered with First Responders Making a Difference, which is a local nonprofit that helps the community. We also partnered with Together, which is an advocacy group for homeless kids in our community,” Cathey says.

“Because we are able to build new relationships, we are able to help even more kids. In the future, we’ll be really building on those relationships and seeing where we cannot just give coats away to those who need them, but also be able to give back in more ways. Pairing with those other organizations can help us get there.”

It Takes a Community

“A big thank you to everyone who supports us,” Cathey says. “Big thanks to our local 2409. Big thanks to the City of Tumwater and City Administrator John Doan. Big thanks to all of our community members. Pints barn and Nicole Andres have supported us over the years. Jim and Nicole Holt who own a small company here in Tumwater are huge supporters and have been behind us from year one, and there are many, many others—Washington State Employees Credit Union supported us from the get-go. We have city employees who support us, our fire department, Chief Scott LaVielle and Assistant Chief Jim McGarva—they understand that this is such an important thing, to be forward-facing in the community and to be helping the community.”

“None of this could happen without them. I am just the organizer of it. The others who give—give money—give their time—it is really about them. We really appreciate it.“

To support Donovan Cathey, Fire Fighters Local 2409 and the community of Tumwater, donate here.

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