Local Firefighters and Operation Warm Bring Winter Coats to Central Elementary Students

Central Elementary student in an all-school photo in front of fire truck on Central campus

Students at Central Elementary School received new winter coats during early December thanks to the efforts and generosity of Bellingham/Whatcom County Firefighters International Association of Firefighters Local 106 (IAFF 106) through the national program Operation Warm.

Operation Warm is an initiative that facilitates fundraising by local organizations to provide winter coats for kids. IAFF 106 has worked with Operation Warm for the past seven years to provide winter coats to students in several Whatcom County schools. 

Rather than providing coats to only certain students or classes, Operation Warm gives coats to all students at a school with a letter to parents in the pocket explaining the program and letting them know where they can donate the coat if it is not needed.

Locally, Operation Warm is organized by Bellingham firefighter Jeff Heinrichs. Heinrichs noted the generous support of area businesses in helping raise funds to provide coats each year.

Recently, Central Principal Joel Francik was approached by IAFF 106 and informed that Central had been selected as an Operation Warm recipient. Bellingham’s Alderwood Elementary was also selected. 

Approximately a week before the event, volunteers visited classrooms at Central to assess coat sizes for students. On Friday, December 6, the distribution of more than 300 coats took place -- one for every single Central Panther. Throughout the day, firefighters and volunteers helped students choose size and color from a selection of coats in the school music room.

“Each year this is a rewarding experience, both seeing our community come together to raise money and seeing kids receive new jackets,” Heinrichs said. “This year was extra special watching kids. We had a handful of kids come through, pick out a coat and then donate it back to the school saying: ‘Other kids need this more than I do, please save it for someone else.’ We also had a couple of kids asking us for coats a few sizes too big because they said they love the coats and want to be able to wear them in the future.”

In addition to getting winter coats, students got the opportunity to visit with firefighters and take an up-close look at a firetruck parked on the Central Elementary campus. They also gathered together in their new coats for an all-school photo.

“This was an amazing gift for all the students here at Central Elementary School,” Francik said. “Students were so excited for the opportunity to choose their own coats and have continued ever since they got them to show them off to our staff. It’s awesome to hear students commenting about how warm and cozy they are. Everyone at Central Elementary wants to give a huge thank you to Bellingham/Whatcom County Firefighters International Association of Firefighters Local 106.”

Click here to view a full gallery of photos from the coat distribution day at Central Elementary.

“We are grateful for the generosity of IAFF 106 and Operation Warm fundraising partners have shown to our students at Central Elementary,” said Superintendent Dr. Linda Quinn. “We are appreciative of the many ways our community supports our schools, and seeing winter coats distributed to our students through Operation Warm is a shining example.”