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On three different dates in late October and early November, fire fighters from Cottleville Fire Protection District – part of Professional Fire Fighters of Eastern Missouri Local 2665 – delivered brand new coats to 10 different Francis Howell elementary schools for kids in need.

The delivery of the coats represents the culmination of a new community project undertaken by Cottleville Firefighters Outreach, a non-profit organization developed by the Cottleville Fire Protection District as an additional means of serving families.

All of the money raised by Cottleville Firefighters Outreach was used to make the $14,000 purchase of 456 new American-made coats for the children. The coats were purchased from a non-profit organization called Operation Warm, which focuses on bringing new winter coats to children that need them.

When Cottleville Firefighters presented this idea to Francis Howell School District (FHSD) administrators, they were very excited. Deanna Kruse, who works in FHSD’s Student Services Department, knows firsthand how many families in the area lack the resources to provide new coats for their kids every year. “We have many students that lack basic needs. Operation Warm will ensure that nearly 500 students will be warm this winter. We are extremely thankful for the partnership with Cottleville FirefightersOutreach,” said Kruse.

Principals, teachers and administrators from 10 Francis Howell elementary schools worked together with CottlevilleFirefighters Outreach to schedule the delivery of all of the coats to the kids while at school. The fire fighters helped the kids pick their coats, ensure proper fit and write their names on the inside of the coats.

After assisting with all 10 deliveries, Local 2665 member Garrett Ryan, who spearheaded the project, said, “We knew we were doing something special by purchasing these coats, but I cannot fully express how moved we all were by having the interaction with the kids. Seeing all of the kids smile, getting so many hugs and high fives was something that we didn’t really think about ahead of time, but it turned out to be an incredibly rewarding experience.”

In the last five years, the International Association of Fire Fighters has donated over 200,000 coats to kids across the country. Cottleville Firefighters Outreach plans to make Operation Warm an ongoing program and hopes to continue to keep kids warm and make them smile every year.