(Jan. 3, 2020) More than 400 Worcester County Public School students received a new winter coat last month as part of Operation Warm, an initiative sponsored by area firefighters to provide outerwear to children in need.

Sean Sullivan, a firefighter paramedic for the Ocean Pines Fire Department, said the Worcester County Professional Firefighters Association, IAFF Local 4916, and other volunteers supplied coats to Buckingham Ocean City, Pocomoke, and Snow Hill elementary schools.

“We try to do everything we can to distribute to as many kids as we can,” Sullivan said.

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Ocean City Elementary School students show off their new coats along with administrators and area firefighters on Monday, Dec. 9. The students were given new coats as part of the Operation Warm initiative sponsored by the Worcester County Professional Firefighters Association, IAFF Local 4916.

Sullivan, who serves as a union liaison for the schools, contacted school counselors from the schools to inquire about the number of coats needed, according to organizers. School counselors will then send home permission slips to parents and get size information from the students. On distribution day, local firefighters will come to the school and help the children pick out a new coat.

“It’s a wonderful resource for our families who may not be able to otherwise afford a brand new winter coat each year, and this gives them a way to do that for their kids. Every time the kids receive a coat, they’re so proud, and they leave smiling, and they’re so excited to receive a coat,” said Staci Aperance, a counselor at Buckingham Elementary School in Berlin.

Aperance said that 65 children received new coats on Monday, Dec. 9.

Linda McGean, a school counselor at Ocean City Elementary School in West Ocean City, said 20 students received new coats on Tuesday, Dec. 10.

“The children are not just getting a new beautiful warm winter coat, they’re also getting some interaction with some very important people in our community, and they know that these firefighters they came this year with the firetruck and the whole deal,” McGean said.

LaVerne Cray, a school counselor at Snow Hill Elementary School in Snow Hill, agreed and said approximately 80 children were given new coats on Thursday, Dec. 19.

Cray added that the coats are essential for students as the temperatures begin to drop.

“Even today, it’s very, very cold and so it was just a blessing that they came even today and was able to help our families out a little bit during the holiday season,” Cray said during an interview on Thursday, Dec. 19.

Aperance also said that the coats benefit the children in more ways than one.

“Well, of course, it helps their physical needs to be met, to stay warm in such a cold winter, but also, it helps their self-esteem to be able to have a new shiny coat to be able to wear and be proud of,” Aperance said.

McGean agreed. She added that she loves how the students are able to meet the firefighters, and she hopes the students will pay it forward one day.

“They don’t have to worry about what am I going to wear when it’s cold? It makes them feel special, puts them on more of an even playing field with other kids who have these things without having to worry about it,” McGean said. “And I’m hoping that down the line they’ll remember that people in their community helped them, and when they’re in a position to do so they’ll help others.”

Cray also said that she loves how the firefighters create a personalized experience for each child by helping to find their size, ensuring it fits properly and writing his or her name inside.

It’s something Cray said that she always looks forward to.

“I love it. I love it every year,” Cray said. “I truly enjoy being able to do whatever I can to help the families at our school and in the community.”

Aperance, Cray and McGean thanked the firefighters involved with this program and helping to change a child’s life.

“It’s very heartwarming not only to help the kids in their families, but also just to see our community step up and reach out and be able to put on such a great program for our kids,” Aperance said.

According to the Operation Warm donation page, the program started in 2012, and firefighters have granted $250,000 coats to area children.

Sullivan said that organizers spend between $8,000 and $10,000 per year to purchase between 300 and 400 coats each year.

Cray and Sullivan agreed that seeing the expression on a child’s face when they receive a coat is priceless.

“That’s what keeps you going from year in and year out and that’s what’s driven me to try to … give as many coats to kids year in and year out,” Sullivan said.

Operation Warm organizers are seeking donations for a $10,000 fundraising goal, according to the initiative’s website. Each $20 contribution “provides one coat for a child in need.”

“I hope that … our community is able to continue to help them through that so we can continue to benefit our kids,” Aperance said.

For more information visit Operation Warm’s donation page at give.operationwarm.org/campaign/worcester-county-professional-firefighters-for-operation-warm-2019-20/c252983.

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