Worcester County Firefighters Surpass Goal, Help Provide Coats for Kids

Not only are the Worcester County Professional Firefighters, IAFF Local 4916, in Maryland doing their best to keep their communities safe – they are also keeping them warm this winter.

Worcester County Firefighters have teamed up with Operation Warm, a national nonprofit dedicated to providing brand new winter coats to children in need, to provide 300 coats to kids in Worcester County.

According to President of the Worcester County Professional Firefighters Association, Melissa Bragg, the interest to get involved with Operation Warm sparked after seeing the success Ocean City Firefighters, IAFF Local 4269, had with their program last year.

“Ocean City Firefighters were involved last year and we helped by going out and putting coats on the kids in the schools,” Bragg says. “We see the need when we go into people’s homes but that’s not necessarily the time or place to ask them about needing coats, we can’t just be like ‘Hey, where’s your coat?’ We just knew there was a need in our community and we wanted to be a part of that.”

The Worcester County Firefighter’s fundraiser was jump started when Burley Oak Brewery in Berlin contacted them about donating left over money from a previous fundraiser.

“Burley Oak had a fundraiser last year but they didn’t have a recipient and they remembered this program so they decided to give it to us,” Bragg says.

The firefighters gladly accepted the brewery’s contribution. They went to pick up the check and they were pleasantly surprised when the brewery said ‘Let’s do another fundraiser.’

“We have always said that this community has helped build this taproom, one pint at a time…so giving back to the people that have welcomed and supported us is always a very easy decision to make,” Bryan Brushmiller, owner of Burley Oak, says. “We are a small group of 20 people, the majority of whom live right here in the Town of Berlin. So when we give back to the community in which we work, we are not only giving back to our community, but also our neighbors. We are thankful every day to have the opportunity to give back to a community that we are proud to be a part of.”

On Monday, Oct. 30, the Burley Oak fundraiser took place contributing 10% of sales, 50% of tips and proceeds from a Chinese auction to the coat program. In addition, 15 pizzas were donated from the local Domino’s Pizza and Burn Wood Fired Pizza in Berlin.

“We were in awe, we were in awe of everyone’s generosity,” Bragg says. “We had so many businesses that chipped in and donated so many prizes -TVs, overnight stays at Ocean City hotels, gift cards to local restaurants, fishing trips. People didn’t hesitate to give, they were like just take it. People were just really excited and willing to hear what we were doing.”

A TV was donated by a local business during the Worcester County Firefighter Burley Oak Fundraiser (Photo: Worcester County FF)

The firefighters held a second fundraiser at the First Friday event in Snow Hill and had a vendor setup outside of Harvest Moon Tavern. During the event, firefighters ran a 50/50 raffle and instant win, while also sitting outside collecting donations.

In addition to the initial donation from Burley Oak and the two fundraisers that followed, the firefighters connected with a local, private donor who contributed a substantial monetary donation to the cause.

The initial 100 coats the firefighters intended to give out quickly multiplied, as they raised more than $35,000 during their various fundraising efforts.

“We weren’t expecting to have this kind of money to work with and we’re really excited to be able to do this and really excited to do it so well the first time out. Now people in the community are aware of what we’ve done and are aware of the need.”

The firefighters are working with local schools to determine where the coats are needed most. Currently, the firefighters have decided to give out 300 USA made coats this year, split between Buckingham Elementary School, Snow Hill Elementary School and Pocomoke Elementary School during the months of November and December.

“After we give those coats out, we’re going to reevaluate and see if the teachers are still talking to us and saying we need X, Y, and Z. We’d really like to save the rest of the money for next year unless there’s an immediate need.”

Bragg says although they knew there was a need before the fundraiser, they didn’t realize to what extent until they started working with local schools.

“The teachers were sending home the permission slips and we were dealing with guidance counselors and they’d say ‘I have a kindergartner or first grader that needs a coat but they also have siblings that need a coat, what do we do?’”

The firefighters will visit each Worcester County school to personally assist each child in finding a new coat in their favorite color and help them write their name in the interior tag which reads, “Made Just for You.”

To learn more about the Worcester County Firefighter’s program, visit https://give.operationwarm.org/campaign/worcester-county-professional-firefighters-association-for-operation-warm-2017/c146201.

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