A chorus of thank-yous bid farewell to a group of Paducah firefighters Tuesday afternoon after they helped Clark Elementary School students pick out new winter coats as part of an annual “Operation Warm” program.
An assortment of coats — in various colors and sizes — were packed away in cardboard boxes Tuesday for Operation Warm, as Paducah Professional Firefighters Local 168, Walmart employees, school representatives and students gathered for the event. In total, Local 168 members plan to distribute 170 coats through Clark, Morgan and McNabb Elementary soon.
“We do know that there’s a lot of children that may not have the coat (they need), for the winters that we can get around here,” said Fire Capt. Nathan Torian, Local 168 president. “It’s not always mild and it’s a great program for us to give something to the young children that may be in need.”
Local 168’s participation in the Operation Warm program started in 2014. The 2020 campaign was delayed because of COVID-19, and the new coats are usually distributed to young students earlier in the winter.
Torian Local 168 received grants from both Paducah Walmart stores to help buy the coats, along with funds raised by firefighters. He also thanked Walmart and the community for its support.
He said seeing the children’s happiness when they get a coat is his favorite part, while Paducah Fire Department Lt. Jennifer Fuchs described Operation Warm as one of her favorite events. She serves as the local coordinator.
“It just gets us out there in the community on a different basis besides emergency services,” she said.
The Clark students had assistance from the firefighters, who helped them pick out a coat, try it on and then wrote the child’s name on a tag inside.
“At our school, we really appreciate the firefighters getting these coats for our kids,” Robyn West, the Family Resource Center coordinator at Clark, said.
She estimated about 30 children, including some on virtual learning, would get an Operation Warm coat this year. The school usually ask parents — for students in different grades — to see who may need a coat for their children. The school then takes the responses and sends a list to the firefighters.
“It really helps out a lot, especially when the weather turns really cold,” West added.
“A lot of our kids ride the bus to school, so they’re standing outside at the bus stop. When they get home, a lot of times the bus stops are not right at your house, so they have to walk a little bit. Having a good warm coat is really important.”