MASSENA — When members of Massena Permanent Firefighters IAFF Local 2220 began a partnership with the Operation Warm program four years ago, they were able to provide new warm winter jackets to children in the Massena Head Start program.
Now, they’re looking for donations to expand it to include the Massena Central School District because Treasurer Justin Niles says the need is there.
“Nearly 60 percent of local children live in poverty and a warm coat is an essential item during north country winters. Every child, regardless of their economic situation, deserves a brand new coat,” he said. “Massena Permanent Fire Fighters IAFF Local 2220 believes a brand new coat is more than a coat, and offers a child physical and emotional warmth, confidence to socialize and succeed, and hope of a brighter future.”
He said 67 percent of the students at Jefferson Elementary School participate in the free or reduced lunch program, as do 68 percent at Madison Elementary and 51 percent at Nightengale Elementary. And that doesn’t include the students at J.W. Leary Junior High School and Massena Central High School.
“We started this program four years ago and it’s increased since then,” Mr. Niles said.
Operation Warm is a national nonprofit that manufactures new, high-quality coats and partners with community organizations to give them away to children in need. Since its founding in 1998, Operation Warm has worked with its partners to provide more than 3 million coats across North America.
Children’s coats can be purchased for $20 and adults for $22.
“Right now we’re trying to hit a $3,000 goal,” Mr. Niles said.
Members of Local 2220 will personally fit each child with a new coat and help them write their name in the interior tag, which reads, “Made Just for You.”
In 2018, the union purchased enough coats for children in need at Massena Head Start, and had enough left over to donate to children at the Police Activities League of Massena, formerly the Boys and Girls Club of Massena. More coats were handed out during the Massena Central School District’s Ready 4 School event in August.
“Our goal this year is to purchase coats for the school system with whatever money is left over after Head Start. Our main goal is the Head Start program,” Mr. Niles said.
He said Operation Warm has increased the sizes of coats, allowing them to purchase large and small not only for children and students, but also for adults in need.
“Now it’s a lot easier to get our hands on the adult jackets. They have from size 3 up to XXXL,” he said. “There’s a lot of need for adult-size clothing. If we can get the various sizes, we can plug them into the school and make it that much better for them.”
Anyone who wants to assist the local effort can make a donation or spread the word about the program.