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Thousands of Milwaukee children get free winter coats thanks to a unique partnership

This year, two Milwaukee organizations marked a major milestone.

They provided their 30,000th brand new winter coat to Milwaukee children, free of charge.

Learn how Operation Warm Milwaukee and the Milwaukee Fire Department sparked a heartwarming (and kid warming!) partnership in the story below.

With our first snowfall behind us, we’re reminded of a universal truth, something every Milwaukeean knows.

"Winter is no joke in Milwaukee," says Meagan Holman, the Community Partnership Manager for Operation Warm.
Operation Warm is a national nonprofit, with a branch here in Milwaukee.

"And our only mission is to connect kids in need with brand new winter coats."

So how big is that need? Holman says about one in four kids are living below the poverty line in the city. Which means thousands of children are living without the basics.

"There are kids that are hiding out in the bathrooms so they don't have to go out at recess because they've only got a hoodie. And frankly, that isn't the way things should be. And isn't a great way to be a kid."
The nonprofit actually manufactures its own coats -- not hand-me-downs -- so kids receive a brand new coat they can be proud of.

But manufacturing those coats - it’s expensive, and relies on partnerships to thrive.

Enter Milwaukee Fire Department.

John Litchford is a member of the Milwaukee Fire Department, currently the Deputy Chief of Fire Support Division.

"Six years ago, the Milwaukee Fire Department, we saw a need," he says. "The coats just weren't on the children."
So, MFD formed a partnership with Operation Warm Milwaukee and it has grown steadily since. The firefighters raise private dollars — as off-duty volunteers — then help distribute the coats in schools. This year, they’ll pass 30,000 coats in Milwaukee.

"These individuals now have a coat of their own. And some of these these kids, that's the first coat they've ever had. And we are just very proud and honored to be able to be that steward of the community to be able to give them their first coat."
And Meagan says, a coat, while it may seem simple, it means so much more to families. Especially big ones with lots of kids.

"When we're able to provide a coat for a kid, regardless of their level of need, most families at that moment then, it mean that they're going to spend more money elsewhere within the family. 'Now I can pay that energy bill. Now I can spend more money on holiday gifts. Now I can buy more food this week.'"
Nationwide, Operation Warm surpassed three million free coats to families, regardless of their income.

Director of Digital Content | Radio Milwaukee