McKeesport firefighters take up coat cause
Through the Coats for Kids Foundation and Operation Warm, McKeesport firefighters are raising funds to provide every student at George Washington Elementary with a new winter coat.
With the International Association of Fire Fighters adopting the Coats for Kids Foundation as a partner charity in 2012, Local 10 of McKeesport is reaching out to city children as winter approaches.
While many of the IAFF-supported charities may help a handful of area children through national programs, Local 10 president Jerry Tedesco said Coats for Kids and Operation Warm allow McKeesport firefighters to target their efforts at home.
“This is something that can help an entire school full of kids right here,” Tedesco said. “It gives us the opportunity, as firefighters, to know that we are really contributing to our community and the lives of local kids.”
Local 10 vice president Jeff Tomovscik, whose sons attend George Washington, said he noticed while dropping off his own children and visiting the school for fire prevention programs that kids are in need of coats.
“Even when the temperature has been close to freezing, kids are wearing hooded sweatshirts,” Tomovscik said. “Many of them don't have anything else.”
Firefighters said 87 percent of George Washington's 470 students are part of families who live at or below the poverty line.
Many students who have older siblings wear hand-me-down coats. And while those items provide warmth, Tedesco said, these kids never have owned a piece of new clothing.
“Our vision is that every child wearing a new winter coat will be healthy, able to attend school regularly and will develop strong self-esteem,” Operation Warm's website indicates.
In the 2011-12 winter, Operation Warm served its 1 millionth child, making it one of the largest donors of new coats in the nation. The organization provides children with new winter coats that they can choose from a selection of designs for girls and boys.
“It's something to keep them warm, but it's also a piece of self-esteem,” Tedesco said. “They get to pick what they want, and they're going to feel good.”
George Washington principal Paul Sweda said McKeesport Area School District is “extremely appreciative” of McKeesport Fire Department and its dedication to students.
“George Washington will put the coats to great use in keeping our students warm during the chilly months ahead,” Sweda said.
IAFF Local 10 must raise $7,000 by Dec. 10 in order to provide jackets to the entire George Washington student body before the district's winter break. There is an approximate two-week turnaround time between placing the order and receiving the coats. Approximately $1,500 had been raised at presstime.
To make a donation toward IAFF Local 10's Operation Warm goal, go online to donate.operationwarm.org/mckeesport10.
Jennifer R. Vertullo is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-664-9161, ext. 1956, or firstname.lastname@example.org.