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Elgin firefighters deliver new coats for kids in need

The Elgfirefighters unifor 2nd year  is heading new codrive for school kids. Firefighters are dropping off coats Lords Park

The Elgin firefighters union, for the 2nd year, is heading a new coat drive for school kids. Firefighters are dropping off coats and at Lords Park Elementary, Monday, December 9, 2013. All told, the firefighters will be handing out 200 coats, 20 at 10 different schools. Social worker Catherine Green, left, watches as Lt. Tim Ryan fits a jacket to Jesus Hildago.| Joe Cyganowski~For Sun-Times Media

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Updated: January 11, 2014 6:16AM

ELGIN — The frigid, snow-covered morning Monday made it a perfect time for members of the Elgin Fire Department to stop by Lords Park Elementary School.

For the firefighters’ mission was to deliver new winter coats to some students who needed them most.

“Last year was the pilot program, and we gave 100 coats to schoolchildren at Sheridan and Lords Park Elementary,” said Firefighter Tim McCauley, who oversees the effort. “This year, I decided to expand to nine schools throughout Elgin.”

McCauley said he selected schools based on need, which he figured from how many students at each qualify to receive free lunches. All nine of the schools picked have about 70 percent or students receiving such meals.

Thus, along with Lords Park and Sheridan, some students at Channing Memorial, Garfield, Harriet Gifford, Highland, Lowrie, McKinley and Washington elementary schools will be receiving coats, too.

McCauley contacted social workers at each school, and “they were all on board and very excited to participate,” he said.

The local program is conducted through the Elgin Association of Firefighters, International Association of Firefighters Local 439, which collected monetary donations from members of the union and from the community. With the expanded effort, school staffs chose about 20 students at each location who they felt were most in need and compiled lists for the firefighters to use to buy the items.

“I ordered the coats from Operation Warm,” McCauley said.

Founded in 1998, Operation Warm works with groups across the country on similar coat drives and parlays power buying with manufacturers to get good prices for the coats. Thus far, Operation Warm has distributed more than 1.2 million coats to children in 41 states.

According to McCauley, all but the biggest sizes ordered are union made in America. Some children need adult size coats, which also were ordered through Operation Warm but are made in China.

“This was 10 percent of the coats we ordered,” McCauley said. “With all the schools orders, we will be supplying roughly 200 coats this year.”

Safety tips

The plan for Monday was to bring a firetruck and ambulance to the school and to give the chosen students a look at the vehicles. However, McCauley, Lt. Rick Hanks and Firefighter Brandon Schuh were running late because of an ambulance call.

Thus, Lt. Tim Ryan, Firefighter-Paramedic Dave Talbot and Firefighter Engineer Tony Spann filled in on short notice, helping each of 17 students present try on coats, then getting each child to put his or her contact information on a label inside their new garments.

Third-grader Jesus Santillan said the coat he had prior to Monday was “kind of old” and that he had never talked to a firefighter before then.

Ryan led a short discussion offering fire safety tips and information to the students — including telling them that, while Elgin has no fire station dogs, such pets originally were used in the past to guard firefighting equipment from thieves and vandals.

Fifth-grader Jamary Gutierrez knew that when a room is filled with smoke, someone should crawl to the nearest safe exit to escape a fire.

Ryan and his crew left to handle another call, shortly after which McCauley, Hanks and Schuh arrived in time to meet the students and to get a picture taken with them by a Christmas tree.

“I really enjoy doing this,” McCauley said. “A lot of these children may have received hand-me-downs their whole lives. By giving them something new and something that is theirs, I feel it makes the kids feel special.”

McCauley said he plans to grow the program every year and hopes to raise enough money to hand out 400 coats next year. And the project has gone well enough that Elgin firefighters are now advising other fire departments — including those in Carpentersville and Algonquin — which have started similar efforts.

“And If people were interested in donating, they can go to donate (,” McCauley said.

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