After collecting nearly 200 coats for needy kids, Forest Park’s firefighters postponed their annual coat drive this year, following high supply and low demand seen in 2016.
“With the weather really warm I think it discouraged people from showing up to pick up coats who committed [last year],” said Bobby Reid, president of the local firefighters union, who organizes the drive every year.
Those who were identified as needing coats didn’t follow up and pick up the jackets ordered for them last year. That led to extra coats left over, which felt like a misplacement of the union’s resources, Reid said. After three years holding the annual drive, firefighters decided to postpone the fundraiser this year. Firefighters have donated 192 coats since 2014, at a cost of $6,528.
“We’re cancelling, taking a year off, possibly two years off and might revisit it when strategically it makes sense,” Reid said.
Compounding the extra coat issue were the jacket-ordering requirements. Forest Park’s firefighters work with the International Association of Fire Fighters to hold the annual drive, and the association selects the company the union orders from. The company must be based in the U.S. and use unionized labor because “that’s the kind of thing that provides stability to the middle-class in America; that’s what we believe in,” Reid said.
While the company’s use of unionized labor fit the firefighters’ mission, its ordering requirements did not. The company mandated all orders be placed in units of six. So if one child needed a coat in a size 12, that means six coats in that size had to be ordered. Firefighters figured out how many coats to order — and who needed a coat — by consulting the Howard Mohr Community Center and schools about who receives free and reduced-price lunches.
Year after year, leftover jackets just sat in a box. Firefighters left coats at the community center, so stragglers could pick up extra jackets if they needed.
“We had hundreds of dollars of our union’s charity committing to a physical resource, to a coat, that’s going to be in a box for a year,” Reid said.
He decided to postpone the drive for one or two years. This year, additional dollars will be given to a number of charities, including the Forest Park Food Pantry, Mayor Calderone’s annual Christmas Toy Drive, the American Legion and more. Reid said firefighters have donated nearly $1,200 to the local food pantry so far this year.
“As a union, probably three or four years ago we really started putting a ton more effort into philanthropic, civic-minded activities,” Reid said. And “it’s really been wonderful. It’s a source of pride for our community; it’s a source of pride for us.”