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Students receive new coats

All Penn-Lincoln children walk to school

Jasper Korman pulls his arms together as volunteer “Mike” checks the fit of his new coat Wednesday at Penn-Lincoln Elementary School. All children in the school received new coats through Operation Warm and AccuWeather. Mirror photo by Russ O’Reilly

With a wide smile and a few frolicky bounces, the first of hundreds of children entered the school gymnasium where an array of brightly colored new coats were laid out.

Volunteers paid individual attention to each child Wednesday and had them try on a few different coats to make sure they found one that fit.

Accuweather in State College partnered with Philadelphia-based charity Operation Warm to purchase 420 new winter coats for all the students at Penn-Lincoln Elementary School.

All Penn-Lincoln students walk to school; none ride the bus, Principal Erik Dambeck said.

“They are out in the elements walking to school,” he said, adding that students have walked to school sometimes not knowing if it’s been canceled or delayed. “Our students are independent at a young age,” he said. And many of them are accustomed to hand-me-down coats or finding one that fits from a lost and found.

For about 90 percent of the school’s students, family income qualifies them for the free or reduced-price school lunches, Dambeck said.

About 25 Accuweather employees took a bus from State College to Altoona on Wednesday to help fit each student with a coat.

The beginning of Operation Warm goes back to 1998 in Kennett Square, when a man named Dick Sanford drove past a group of coatless children huddled at a bus stop on a cold December morning. Sanford then drove to a department store and purchased all 58 coats in stock.

Last year the charity gave away its three-millionth coat, Operation Warm Vice President Lee Fulton said.

Fulton prepared volunteers at Penn-Lincoln, saying that getting a new coat is a new experience for many children.

“You will meet kids today who can’t believe they have a new coat,” Fulton said. “They will ask again and again, ‘Is this really mine?'”

A new coat could not only keep a child warm but improve their confidence, Fulton said.

“Today can change a child’s life,” she said.

Elizabeth Soroka, Accuweather vice president of human resources, said Accuweather’s directors didn’t have much growing up and wanted to make a difference by making Accuweather a corporate partner with Operation Warm.

Operation Warm then identified Penn-Lincoln as a school in Accuweather’s region where students especially could use the coats.

“It feels wonderful to be here,” she said. “When we found out all of these students were walkers, I thought, ‘I wish we would have done this earlier,'” she said.

Accuweather meteorologists said the winter season across the three months of December, January and February — combined — is forecast to be slightly colder than average this year.

Bundled in their new coats, Penn-Lincoln students will be prepared.

Mirror Staff Writer Russ O’Reilly is at 946-7435.

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