Thursday, August 1, 2013

Firefighters Aim to Keep Local Schoolchildren Warm This Winter

By Christina Georgiou

Winter may still seem like a long way off, but city firefighters are looking ahead and working to help keep as many local schoolchildren warm when the weather turns cold.

The "Easton Firefighters Coats for Kids" campaign hopes to provide brand new, American-made winter coats to students that participate in the free/reduced lunch programs at Paxinosa, Cheston, and March elementary schools in the city.

"We're trying to show the kids that they're worth something new," said campaign organizer and Easton firefighter James Corcoran. "We'd like to give them a self-esteem boost as well as make sure they're warm this winter."

The effort will also help recipients' families too, allowing the children's parents to allocate the money to other necessary expenses, he said.

The three schools were chosen out of the total of six Easton Area School District elementary schools because of the high number of students at each whose families are low-income, Corcoran said.

At Paxinosa Elementary School, 73 percent of the students are eligible for the free/reduced lunch program, while at Cheston and March, the numbers are 67 and 41 percent respectively. According to online statistics, 22 percent of all children in Easton live in poverty.

The firefighters' union, IAFF Local 713, which is sponsoring the campaign, has donated $1,000 to the cause, which will pay for the first 31 of the coats.

And, some local businesses are already helping out, Corcoran said.

Most notably, Two Rivers Brewing Company, which is directly across the street from the Downtown Easton fire station, will be holding a special happy hour event from 4 to 7 p.m. every Thursday in August, and 10 percent of all receipts at that time will be donated to the cause.

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Fire station tours held from 5:30 to 7 p.m., along with a 50/50 raffle, may also draw more people to the five Thursday evening events too, organizers hope.

Other local businesses have been giving items to the charity drive's organizers that will be raffled between now and Oct. 16, the deadline for donations, Corcoran said. Again, all the money raised through the fundraisers will go directly towards the purchase of as many winter coats as possible.

"But, so far, it's been pretty slow," he said of the rate of donations, adding that while the firefighters hope to be able to provide a new coat to every kid in need, it may be that they will have to select specific classes at the three selected schools instead, and bypass providing coats to others.

Corcoran said he ultimately doesn't know how many children will be recipients of the drive, especially since it's the first year the union has held this sort of charity drive, and is being run through the national "Operation Warm" program.

"The original idea was to give every kid on the free- and reduced-lunch program a free coat, but we have to work with what we get," he said.

Corcoran is hopeful that once word of the coat drive gets out and the heat of summer begins to wane, more individuals will donate to the cause.

Donors aren't required pay for an entire coat, he said--any amount is welcome and will go directly towards buying the cold-weather garments.

Donations will be accepted through October 16, which will allow for the two-week turnaround the order from the manufacturer requires. The coats will then be distributed directly to the selected students in early November, hopefully in time for the arrival of cold weather.

Children will be allowed to choose the color of their coat, and each will have the recipient's name stitched inside too--a touch that lets the kids know the coat was made for them. Teachers will help fill out the order forms and measure students to ensure a good fit, Corcoran said.

"The cost is $32 per coat. However many donations we get, we'll work with that," Corcoran said.

To keep people up to date and provide more information about upcoming fundraising events that will contribute to "Easton Firefighters Coats for Kids", organizers have set up a Facebook page.

To contribute directly to the new coat drive online or learn more about the national "Firefighters Coats for Kids Foundation, visit the IAFF Local 713's web page on "Operation Warm" here.

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