Annual Fairfax County winter coat drive will help keep thousands of kids warm again

It’s an annual tradition, and even the pandemic can’t slow it down. Firefighters, police officers and others in Fairfax County, Virginia, teamed up Monday to bag up 3,000 new winter jackets so they can get them onto the backs and shoulders of kids who need them.

The only difference is they did it in drive-through fashion at a firehouse in Hybla Valley, where volunteers loaded up two, three, five or however many bags each organization requested.

“Probably about 10 coats per bag guys. We don’t want them to get too heavy!” yelled Willie Bailey, deputy fire chief at the Fairfax County Fire and Rescue Department, who helps organize the event and others like it around the D.C. region every year.

This year, representatives from 50 schools, as well as area shelters, community centers and other organizations drove through. Sometimes, everything could fit in the back seat of a sedan. Others drove minivans because they had more bags to carry back.

“These are teachers, counselors, social workers that know those kids and their schools and know who needs these items,” said Bailey.

Most of the coats went to Fairfax County residents, and in many cases, along the Route 1 corridor. But some were going to places like Prince William County, the city of Alexandria and even into Prince George’s County, Maryland.

“We don’t really care where the kid lives. We want to make sure that we’re helping them,” Bailey said.

For Bailey, who grew up living in public housing in Alexandria, he knows exactly the kind of impact this can have. He said he got his first new coat in high school and “I didn’t want to take it off!”

“We all know that this last year and a half was really difficult on everyone in our community,” said Jeff McKay, the chairman of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors. “Looking out of this fire station, within sight, are kids and families that are in need and they deserve the fundamentals and these kids deserve the right to have the best chance of succeeding in school.”

“It may seem like a little thing, but a coat on the back of a kid can change the dynamic for them in the classroom and their trajectory in life,” McKay added.

Bailey didn’t dispute that.

“A coat goes a long way,” he said. “There’s a chance they might not go outside to play because they don’t have a coat. There’s a chance they might not go to school. I’ve heard families say the kids take turns wearing the coat.”

Bailey and the fire department team up with Operation Warm, a national nonprofit that helps get 250,000 new winter coats to local organizations that can then get them to people who need them.

A similar event is scheduled Saturday in Alexandria.

John Domen

John started working at WTOP in 2016 after having grown up in Maryland listening to the station as a child. While he got his on-air start at small stations in Pennsylvania and Delaware, he's spent most of his career in the D.C. area, having been heard on several local stations before coming to WTOP.

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