Warm hearts and warm coats filled the gymnasium of Marie Reed Elementary School in Northwest, Washington, D.C. on Nov. 17. Operation Warm is a nonprofit organization partnered with clothing seller Hollister Co. to provide students with coats of their choice for the winter season.

Students try on and choose their coats with the help of Hollister Co. volunteers. (Photos by Brianna Rhodes)

Fifty Baltimore and Washington, D.C. Hollister employees ranging from the district manager to part-time associates volunteered at the event to help 429 kids from grades pre-K to 5th grade choose and write their names on their coat, and take pictures.

Two Operation Warm staff members; Kirsten Bradley, associate director of partnerships; Lauren Holloway, public relations coordinator and four faculty members: Marie Reed Principal Katie Lundgren, Leticia Manoel, school social worker, Phallon Lattimore, director of strategy and logistics, and Eloisa Moreno, assistant of strategy and logistics helped put together the event.

“It’s super exciting,” Manoel said. “It’s really great to see that every one of them get a new coat. They were happy. They were grateful to be greeted by each one of those volunteers and then get a coat that really fits them. We’re just very excited to have this opportunity.”

More than one in four children in D.C. live with families with incomes below the federal poverty line.

“The national percentage of children who live below the poverty line is 22 percent,” Kirsten Bradley, the associate director of partnerships of Operation Warm said. “D.C. is about 26 to 27 percent.”

When D.C. was chosen as one of locations, the percentage of children who attend the school that receive free and reduced lunch was considered.

Claudia  Mulligan, a fourth grade english and language arts teacher who teaches in the dual language program at Marie Reed, said having Operation Warm at the school was important because most of the students come from low-income families.

“It makes me really happy to see this just because it’s one less thing the parents have to stress about,” Mulligan said. “The kids grow so quickly so that means every season they have to get new clothes pretty much and coats in particular, you know, can be very expensive. It’s nice to see that this is one less burden for families during the holiday season.”

Operation Warm has partnered with Hollister for the past three years to provide coats for kids all across the country with company initiatives such as “Roundup at the Register” and “Buy a Coat, Give a Coat.”  This year, Washington, D.C, Boston, New York City, Seattle and Denver were chosen.

“We did a round up for charity in 2015 just asking customers at the register to round up their change to the nearest dollar,” said Nicole Mcintyre, the district manager for Hollister. “In 2016 we did ‘Buy a Coat, Give a Coat’ so for every coat the we sold for the month of December we gave one away and that is what you’re seeing today. The coats that we sold last year. We’re actually giving away what we promised.”

Since Operation Warm began in 1998, the nonprofit has gifted more than 2 million coats and in the past years they have given away up to 300,000 coats a year, according to Bradley.

“I’m happy because now I don’t have to wear the big old giant puffy coat at home and now I can just wear this,” Laila Champion, a fifth grade student, said of her new coat.