More than 300 winter coats donated to Groton children

Groton — Students at Claude Chester Elementary School on Thursday excitedly picked brand-new winter jackets from stacks of options, in colors from red to purple, set up on tables in the cafeteria.

"Do you love it?" Principal Jamie Giordano asked a third-grade student who had just selected a gray jacket with pink and teal accents.

"Yes," the student said with a grin as she carried her new jacket.

About 336 new winter coats were donated through an initiative by the Groton Elks, so every student at the school could receive one.

Giordano said she felt "overwhelmed with gratitude about how our community can support each other." She said she's so grateful to the Elks and proud of the students, who were appreciative to the Elks and volunteers.

During the coat distribution on Thursday, volunteers helped the students find their size and pick a color they liked. When students, many already wearing their new jackets, lined up to leave with their teacher, they thanked the volunteers and waved. 

Giordano said the coat distribution means an incredible amount, because it takes away any kind of burden for a parent to have to replace a coat, if the coat doesn't fit anymore, a zipper breaks or the fabric tears. Some students didn't have a winter jacket and were just wearing a heavy sweatshirt.

Initially, the plan was for about 100 students to receive coats, after the Groton Elks Lodge No. 2163 got a $2,000 grant from the Elks National Foundation to sponsor the school through Operation Warm, said Giordano and Joann Donnel, past exalted ruler and grant coordinator for Groton Elks Lodge. When Giordano asked how could they make it work so every student could get one, the Elks connected with Operation Warm, which then set up an online fundraising website for the Elks. Members of the Elks, people from the community and surrounding communities, including friends and family members of school staff, contributed $2,269, and Operation Warm kicked in extra funds so every student could get a coat.

Fifth-grader Jeremiah Baig, 10, selected a red and blue jacket for himself and chose a gray and blue jacket for his friend, who wears those colors and wasn't there on Thursday. 

"It feels good to get a coat, and I really like it," Jeremiah said.

Volunteer Sharon Rebein helped fifth-grader Harmony Wheaton, 10, pick out a teal coat that was a little oversized so she could wear it next year.

"I'm really happy and grateful," Harmony said, smiling as she wore her new jacket. She said that when she and her classmates found out they were going to get new coats, they were blown away and happy.

Rebein said it feels good to be able to help kids, and it's "close to home," since her children went to Claude Chester.

Donnel said the Elks also plan to donate some coats to Catherine Kolnaski STEAM Magnet School to enable the school to start a coat bank, so if kids are in need of a coat, they could get one.

The Elks also presented Assistant Superintendent Susan Austin with a $500 check for the school district's food insecure fund.

Austin, who thanked the Elks and complimented students on their jacket choices, said it's so exciting for children to get a new coat and for them to pick out a size and color.

"The youth is the future, and this is something they're always going to remember," added John A. Espada, past exalted ruler of the Elks.

Dan Shea, exalted ruler for the Groton Elks, said events like the coat distribution are what the Elks are all about. He said everything the Elks do is for the community, and helping youths, as well as veterans, is a big part of that.

"It's a great feeling," he said about every student receiving a coat. "You know they appreciate it. You can just tell by the smiles on their faces, and I'm sure their parents appreciate it, as well."

k.drelich@theday.com

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