For 7-year-old Darion Neugent, getting a brand new, blue winter coat from an Oklahoma City firefighter was “awesome!”
The second-grader was one of 467 Greystone Upper Elementary School students to receive a new winter coat Monday morning from firefighters from nearby fire stations and volunteers through the Firefighters Coats for Kids program.
“I have a coat at home but when I try to play, it's not very good. It's a big coat,” Darion said.
Moments later, Darion excitedly talked with one of his friends who also chose a blue winter coat.
For third-grader Mary Kate Lee, 9, her brand new, dark pink coat is the only coat she has that fits her.
“All the coats I have at my house don't fit me anymore,” she said.
The boys chose between a green, gray or blue coat, while the girls chose between a purple, light pink or dark pink coat.
Before the second through sixth grades took turns getting their coats, most of the students there were wearing only their required short-sleeved, school polo, although Monday morning's temperatures were in the 30s.
“About two thirds of our children have yet to take that coat off,” Greystone Upper Elementary School Principal Max Miller said. “It's a sense of pride for them. Oftentimes, they're not wearing the same type of coats that many other kids that they see (wear,) and for them to be able to have a brand new coat makes them feel like they are other kids. It gives them a sense of confidence and self-confidence that they might not otherwise have. It means a lot to them.”
Many Greystone Upper Elementary School parents struggle financially, Miller said. About 95 to 96 percent of Greystone Upper Elementary School students have free and reduced price lunches.
“Our children come to us every morning, oftentimes dropped off at 7:15 a.m.; school doesn't start until 8:20 a.m., and as you know, the mornings are cold,” Miller said. “Many of our children don't have coats or they have hand-me-down coats that are worn or torn and so for them to have an opportunity like this … it helps them with a need right now.”
The Oklahoma City Fire Department's Coats for Kids program began in 1990, raising money to buy coats for an Oklahoma City area-school, Fire Chief Keith Bryant said.
“It's something we like to do. I think that most children have a winter coat but not all children do, and we just want to make sure that that is something that they have,” Bryant said.
The fire department has raised money for 500 coats with the help of 23 sponsors, including Continental Resources, said Oklahoma City Fire chaplain Teddy Wilson.
“The concept behind this is, if we can keep them (the students) warm, they will come to school,” Wilson said.
Oftentimes, they're not wearing the same type of coats that many other kids that they see (wear,) and for them to be able to have a brand new coat makes them feel like they are other kids.”
Greystone Upper Elementary School principal