Anyone lucky enough to be on site at Wilmington’s Thomas Edison Charter School today would have agreed — as one local business leader put it –a “beautiful school with high energy.” Among other points of pride, east side school also boasts a championship chess team.
Yet, sadly, ninety percent of Thomas Edison’s students live at or below the poverty line. Many walk to school in temperatures like this morning’s chilly greeting without a jacket, as their parents struggle to choose between putting food on the table or buying a winter coat.
The Delaware KIDS Fund, established by the real estate development company Harvey, Hanna Associates, has worked for years to provide food and clothing for young children in Newport and Wilmington, and today the organization showed up at Thomas Edison with 500 brand new winter coats – one for every child at the school.
Using proceeds from their fourth annual Campout for Coats: Operation Warm Newport event, the Delaware KIDS Fund plans to give away 2,000 coats to kids at four elementary schools in Wilmington and Newport over the next two weeks. This is the largest number they have given away since they launched the fundraising initiative in partnership with Operation Warm four years ago.
“We can put food in tummies and jackets on backs and give them some compassion,” said Delaware KIDS Fund director Ryan Kennedy. “A lot of these kids are coming from places where they don’t get that. They have all the support in the world here at this amazing school, but the teachers and the administrators need our help,” he said.
The entire morning classes of students paraded through the school’s gymnasium where they saw piles and piles of coats and were greeted by dozens of volunteers from thirty businesses including M&T Bank who helped manage the process. Seventy-four volunteers directed students to tables with the appropriate gender and size, where youngsters were able to choose the jacket they liked most. Asked to stretch their arms high and them give themselves a big hug, kids were able to make sure they walked away with a coat with a proper fit.
Second-grader Saraha Lively and her best friend picked the exact same coat with different shades of blue. “It’s nice and it’s cute. It feels good to get this before Christmas,” she said.
And there were a few surprises this year, too. Governor John Carney, Wilmington Mayor Mike Purzycki and New Castle County County Executive Matt Meyer stopped by, and each talked with students and pitched in to help.
Principal Salome Thomas-EL said there are thousands of kids in every major city who walk to school every day without a coat. “When we’re not meeting their basic needs, it’s very difficult to get them to learn in school. So this is huge for us.
“We have students who walked to our school today without a coat and some have shorts on today. And it about 30 degrees last night. So it’s a blessing. And then to have people help put the coat on, give you a hug, who don’t look like you, who re not from your community, that’s the ultimate level of service,” said Thomas-EL.
The Delaware KIDS Fund coat giveaway is done in partnership with Operation Warm, a national program that Dick Sanford founded in Kennett Square, PA. Sanford also came to help on Tuesday. “How does a family of four making $24,000 a year? How do you do that? So parents are making a choice – ‘I can put food on the table or I can buy a coat to keep my child warm.’ Are you serious? So a coat means so much to many of these children. And the coat offers hope and helps with self-esteem. They know that somebody out there cares for me.”