Employees at Protective Life Insurance Company in Syracuse, New York, helped Syracuse City International Association of Fire Fighters (IAFF) warm the hearts – and bodies – of young children in need by raising money toward the firefighters’ Operation Warm program.
Since 1998, Operation Warm has given more than two million new winter coats to children-in-need across the country. The national nonprofit works directly with manufacturers both overseas and in the U.S. to custom make each coat. This enables Operation Warm to control the quality of the coats and ensure they are designed for maximum warmth and durability. The coats are similar in style, with deep pockets, warm hoods, and a soft fleece lining. But they come in a variety of bright color combinations that children can choose from.
Letting the children choose their own coat offers them more than warmth. It gives them a sense of empowerment, says Brock Clauser, Operation Warm’s director of marketing. “We believe the gift of a new coat goes further than a hand-me-down. They provide warmth, but we also believe the coats can improve self-confidence and can help with self-esteem. It creates a sense of pride in ownership.” Operation Warm is able to provide coats to children through partnerships with corporations and civic groups that raise money to purchase the coats. Five years ago, the organization partnered with IAFF and since then, teams of fire fighters from across the country have contributed more than 250,000 winter coats.
The Syracuse City Local 280 fire fighters are an ideal fit for this program, considering Syracuse is one of the snowiest cities in the U.S. with winter temperatures falling well below freezing. Oftentimes, children are kept home from school on the coldest days because they don’t have adequate outerwear, says Paul Montondo, president of the AIFF Local 280. These coats can help kids get to school more often in frigid conditions and break the cycle of poverty through education. And, they promote wellness by enabling kids to stay active and play outside year-round, Brock explains.
Local 280 fire fighters decided to target the 170 students at the PEACE Inc. Early/Headstart Program, a free education program for preschool-aged children that bridges the gap for families unable to afford other daycare options. Local 280 set a goal to raise $4,000, and reached out to the community for donations.
When Maurice Gilbert, fire fighter and executive board member, told his mother, Francine Gilbert, about the fundraiser, she brought the idea to her fellow employees at Protective. “It seemed like a great initiative, so we got on board,” says Karen Naples, who serves on Protective’s event team.
Employees sold popcorn and raffled off a basket of Syracuse University memorabilia. Maurice even brought his two-year-old daughter Mia – dressed as a fire fighter – to Protective’s office to help collect donations.
“We always try to reach out to the local community,” says Betty Darrigo, another member of Protective’s event team. “It’s a good fit, and it just felt fantastic to support them.”
The effort helped the Local 280 exceed their $4,000 goal by nearly $1,400. The extra money was used to buy gloves and hats for the kids.
In October, before the winter chill in Syracuse had set in, members of the Local 280 brought the coats, gloves and hats to the school and helped each child to pick out his or her coat.
“To see the smile on these kids’ faces, this is truly what it’s all about,” Paul says.