Gabriel’s smile turned into an open-mouth giggle as he waited for a new coat from the Oklahoma City firefighters annual coat giveaway at Oklahoma City Public Schools Hawthorne Elementary Thursday.
Two companies of in-service firefighters from the Oklahoma City Fire Department arrived at the elementary at 2300 NW 15th Street with enough coats for all the 472 students there.
Students were brought to the gymnasium by class where a firefighter escorted them one-by-one to the table of coats where they picked the color they wanted and fitted in the right size.
With her joyful smirk, Adamaris looked like she just won the lottery as Major Evan Fenton worked to get the zipper started on her coat.
Free Press talked with Scott VanHorn, president of Local 157, International Association of Fire Fighters. The union represents the OKCFD firefighters in negotiation and helps coordinate charitable activities like the one Thursday.
He and several retired firefighters were there to help just in case both in-service companies got a call and had to leave.
“We’re involved in several different ways giving back to the community,” he said. “This happens to be our favorite. It’s easy for us to get firefighters to donate money to this.”
Even though OKCFD firefighters do several charitable events, especially around Christmas, this one is among the longest running.
How do they raise money?
“It started out with us passing the hat and we did that for years,” said Van Horn. “A few years ago, we decided let’s all just pitch in a small amount each payday so we’re not having to pass the hat.”
George Fina, President of the Retired Fire Fighters association, and another retired firefighter, Clifford Lewis, were also there because they think it’s such an important project of the firefighters.
“You know, “protect and serve” goes a long way, said Fina. “Basically, this is serving the community. We’ve been doing this for years.”
Melinda Elms has been the principal at Hawthorne for the last two years.
“We love our students and want them to feel welcomed and a part of this family,” said Elms. “So, we do everything we can to help.”
She said all their children are eligible for breakfast and lunch by policy this year, but in past years most of the student body was eligible anyway.
Their students, along with many others across Oklahoma’s largest school district have needs for coats as winter arrives.
As Sergio watched Major Bryon Wells start the zipper on his bright blue coat, he wasn’t just pleased by the coat, but admiration for the firefighter was an obvious part of his emotion, too.
Could he grow up to be a firefighter, too? We had to wonder.
The OKCFD gave money for the coat project through the Coat-a-Kid program. To find out how you can give, go to okckids.com/coatakid.