Firefighters, Senate president give Providence students the gift of warmth

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — It was another chilly day on Friday but hundreds of school children in Providence were able to stay warm thanks to the generosity of the community.

All 600 students at Veazie Street Elementary School received brand new jackets and for some, it’s the first winter coat they’ve ever owned.

‘”We have a lot that have been coming to school with just hoodies on and not coats,” Principal Colleen Caswell said. “We have about 90% free and reduced lunch here, so it’s higher poverty rate.”

Walk the halls of the school and you’ll find an extremely diverse and vibrant student body.

“About 53% African American, about 40% Hispanic and the rest are mixed ethnic backgrounds,” Caswell said.

About a third of Veazie Street’s students learned English as a second language.

“Some of the kids, especially if they’re new to the country, they may come and they may be from warmer climates,” teacher Michael Fioravanti explained. “They may not have the proper clothing for this kind of climate.”

The coats were distributed Friday by city firefighters and Senate President Dominick Ruggerio. They were purchased through national nonprofit Operation Warm and offered at a reduced rate, but organizers still had to raise about $14,000 to buy them.

“I’m overwhelmed by the turnout and the fantastic job that the firefighters have done in coordination with the teachers and everyone else here,” Ruggerio said.

“There’s almost 60 firefighters here and the majority of them are here off duty,” said Paul Doughty, president of the city’s firefighters’ union. “I think it’s just another measure of how much they try to give back to the community.”

This was the first Operation Warm coat drive held in Rhode Island, but organizers hope to expand the event in the coming years to bring more winter jackets to students in need.