PITTSFIELD, Mass. — The engine and ladder truck pulled up in front of the Boys and Girls Club with sirens blaring on Monday afternoon. It was the signal that Operation Warm was a go.
Firefighters pulled out bags and boxes of winter coats from the trucks for dozens of excited children.
"I like white and purple," said 6-year-old Wilean Walker as she tried on her new off-white coat with its bright purple fleece lining. "Yes," she loved the coat, "yes," she loved the fire engines, she said, bouncing up and down. "I'm excited!"
Five-year-old Sean Morin was a little more subdued but couldn't help patting his new coat with satisfaction. What did he like the best? The color, he said. "I like orange."
Pittsfield's Operation Warm: More Than A Coat was a partnership between Pittsfield Fire Fighters Local 2647, the Boys and Girls Club and the Pittsfield Family YMCA.
"We were chosen this year as one of the organizations to receive [the coats]," said Rob Leary, president of Local 2647. "It kind of rotates throughout the state as to what area is to get them and they picked Pittsfield to get this year."
The union chapter received 132 children's coats in a wide range of colors to give out. It was timely, with the area getting walloped over the weekend by the first snowstorm of the season.
"It's really all about the kids, it's this time of year everybody's thinking about people in need ... this is an excellent opportunity to take advantage of that and give back to the community," Leary said.
The union made-in-the-USA winter coats were divvied up by size and had attached hoods, fleece lining, inside and outside pockets, and zipper and snap fronts. Firefighters in Santa caps manned a long table of boxes, helping the children and volunteers get the right sizes. The Y and the club were each getting 11 boxes of coats to distribute.
Operation Warm was begun in 1998 by current Chairman and CEO Dick Sanford, who was motivated into action after seeing a group of coatless children huddled at a bus stop on a wintry Pennsylvania morning. Since then, the nonprofit has given out 2 million coats manufactured through partners overseas and in the United States. It has more than 900 partners in all 50 states.
One of those partners is the Professional Fire Fighters of Massachusetts. State President Richard MacKinnon Jr. said the union has been working with Operation Warm for the past three years.
"We have approximately 220 locals within our state association, each one committed to donating $100, some donated a lot more, to the Operation Warm project so that we could buy the coats and partner with Operation Warm to give them out throughout the state," he said. "Each year, we've been able to buy more and more coats and expand the program."
MacKinnon had been in Springfield, where more than 100 coats were distributed by local firefighters to children in an early education program, before heading to Pittsfield.
"The firefighters that do it, they feel a sense of pride working in their community and especially with the kids," he said. "Some [children] are less fortunate and they don't have what they need for the winter. It makes us feel good giving back to the community."
Local 2647 doesn't stop at just coats. It's been involved in a number of community endeavors, including an effort it's working on with Girls Inc., sponsoring families through the state Department of Children and Families, and setting up a bell ringing with the Salvation Army.
"We're just really trying to get involved in the community, really get ourselves out there," said Leary, noting the local's scholarship program gives out more than $7,000 a year. "We try to stay involved in the community all year long, we like to give back to the community.
"That's why we're in the service that we're in."