Students dressed in their new winter jackets and carrying new athletic shoes prepare to board the bus back to the Gum Springs Head Start.
Photo by Louise Krafft.
Seeing is believing for Nicholas Chakos and his family, who made the drive from Pittsburgh to Alexandria to help provide 2,500 pair of shoes to children in need as part of the Firefighters and Friends to the Rescue coat and shoe distribution Oct. 28 at Penn Daw Fire Station 11.
“This is a wonderful example of what a public and private partnership should be,” said Chakos, who serves as the executive director of FOCUS North America, a nonprofit organization that provides services to the homeless and working poor in 50 cities across the country. “With the public and private sectors coming together today, more than 2,500 families in need in Fairfax County will be helped.”
The addition of shoes as part of the annual firefighters coat distribution, spearheaded by Capt. Willie Bailey of the Fairfax County Fire and Rescue Department, was organized by Chakos and FOCUS of North America through the Fairfax County Office of Public and Private Partnerships.
“Through PP3 we met Capt. Bailey and wanted to do what we could to help,” Chakos said. “While we primarily provide jobs and housing to help the homeless and working poor, there are still a lot of tangible items those families need. Shoes are an important item that families go through very quickly and even low cost ones can be difficult to afford.”
Chakos procured 2,500 pair of athletic shoes from the Toms Shoe Company to be distributed to families throughout Northern Virginia. Each child received two pair of shoes — one for now and one to grow into.
For the fourth year, Pennsylvania-based nonprofit Operation Warm donated more than 1,800 new coats, all of which were made in America.
“I think it’s important to note where these coats came from,” said Fairfax County Fire Chief Richie Bowers as he showed off the Made in the U.S.A. tags on each coat. “Not only were hundreds of American jobs saved by purchasing these coats, they are distributed exclusively by firefighters across the country doing in their communities what Capt. Bailey is doing here.”
Primo’s Restaurant provided food for the dozens of retired firefighters and volunteers who gathered before dawn to sort through the coats and shoes and prepare them for distribution to representatives of 60 area schools and nonprofit organizations.
“We also were able to give away 500 gift certificates from the Hair Cuttery to boys and girls under 18,” Bailey said.
Additional contributors to the annual coat distribution effort include the Fairfax County Fire and Rescue Department, Progressive Firefighters of Fairfax, Local 2068, Nationwide Credit Corporation, Apple Federal Credit Union , Promax Realtors, ACT for Alexandria and the Fairfax Firefighters Retiree Association.
“There are people hurting out there,” said School Board member Dan Storck. “What Willie is doing is a backstop for these families and I am so deeply thankful that this is a community that comes together to take care of each other, especially our kids.”