New coats bring big smiles to Armin Jahr students

Jakiya Smith, 10, receives a coat from Capt. John Hawkins during a local firefighters
Jakiya Smith, 10, receives a coat from Capt. John Hawkins during a local firefighters 'Coats for Kids' drive. The coats were donated to Armin Jahr fourth grade students.
— image credit: Seraine Page

If the firetrucks weren't enough to get students excited, the brand new jackets did the trick for fourth graders at Armin Jahr Elementary School on Wednesday.

The giveaway was part of a local drive through the national Coats for Kids Foundation by Operation Warm, an effort to ensure winter coats get to children in need. Local firemen brought the jackets and trucks as a surprise to the students.

Jakiya Smith couldn't stop smiling after receiving a brand-new coat on Wednesday during a massive coat giveaway at her school.

"It's amazing," she said of her new purple jacket. "It's really soft and warm inside."

Firemen from IAFF Local 437 and Local 2819 rolled up to the school and parked right outside classrooms 26 and 27. They unloaded boxes of American-made jackets on the ground in two separate areas -- one for boys and one for girls.

As students lined up, some who weren't wearing jackets shivered, waiting for their turn to put on a warm jacket. Once they did, it was a moment of happiness and joy for both students and donors.

"My favorite part is they kinda have a look of wonderment," said Tom Stanley, a Kitsap Firefighters Benevolent Fund member. "You can tell as soon as they put the coat on that they own it."

Even Bremerton Mayor Patty Lent was on site to help students into their new jackets. Lent sized up the boys and girls who stood before her to assist the firefighters in proper fittings.

"It's a need," said Lent. "Of all the departments, they (the fire departments), step up to the community."

For teacher Veronica Eldridge, the firemen couldn't come soon enough. In the past, Eldridge has spent some of her paycheck on jackets for children who otherwise would go without. Seeing the firemen surprise her 29 students with new coats warmed her heart.

"I've bought so many coats at Goodwill," she said.

Eldridge noted that the true definition of "no child left behind" is knowing every child is comfortably warm along with getting a good education. Along with the new coats, firefighters answered students' questions and let them climb into the fire trucks.

Jasmine Lewis, 9, said her new jacket fit just right.

"I love my new coat because it's pink and it's my favorite color," she said. "It's really, really warm."

The Kitsap Firefighter's Benevolent Fund members are firefighters from Local 437 and Local 2819 who took part in the campaign. Armin Jahr Elementary was chosen in particular because it has the highest percentage of students in the area who rely on free-and-reduced lunches.

Throughout the year, members host fundraisers to raise money to purchase the jackets for students in need. Between the benevolent fund and local unions 437 and 2819, the cost of the coats -- $1,900 -- was covered. Donations are welcome at any time, members said.

By the end of the drive, the departments estimate they will have given out around 180 coats.

"Your generosity was fantastic," Mike Sellers, Armin Jahr principal told the firemen. "Thank you so much."




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