Warm Hearts Bring Warm Coats

A national non-profit, Operation Warm, recently got to see the power of an urban-serving university in action.

UW Tacoma’s deep-seated connections to the surrounding community recently got tested in an unusual, heart-warming way.

Operation Warm, a national non-profit that distributes new winter coats to children in need, had gotten a request from a famous professional basketball player with Tacoma roots. Avery Bradley wanted to support the donation of coats to the children at McCarver Elementary School, in Tacoma’s Hilltop neighborhood.

The first thing Operation Warm did was look at a map. McCarver, part of Tacoma Public Schools, is on South 21st Street, between South I and South J Streets. UW Tacoma is just five blocks away.

Operation Warm personnel contacted the university with no particular expectations. They were about to witness the power of an urban-serving university in action.

Urban Studies Senior Lecturer Linda Ishem has had a long partnership with McCarver, dating back to the tragic kidnapping and murder in 2007 of 12-year-old Zina Linnik, who was a student at the school. Upon learning of Operation Warm’s coat-donation mission, she sprang into action, contacting her partners at the school and helping to recruit 40 community volunteers.

Community volunteers gather at McCarver Elementary to support Operation Warm. UW Tacoma Senior Lecturer Linda Ishem is in the purple W|Tacoma shirt, second row center. Photo courtesy Operation Warm.

The whole project, from initial inquiry to coat distribution, was pulled together in just a few weeks, by dogged work on the part of the Operation Warm staff. The culmination of all the behind-the-scenes activity came on February 3, 2017, when the entire student body of 460 McCarver students came, a class at a time, into the school’s gymnasium. Arrayed before them were racks and racks of new coats in dozens of sizes and colors. The students were greeted by the community volunteers who helped them through the process of “shopping” for a free, new coat.

Operation Warm volunteers at McCarver Elementary School. UW Tacoma volunteers included James Sumrell (far left), Reesha Flavors (second from left), and Gurtej Singh (far right).One of those volunteers was UW Tacoma freshman Gurtej Singh, who is studying accounting and biomedical science, and who wants to have a career in the field of sports medicine. He was working alongside Reesha Flavors, former president of UW Tacoma’s Black Student Union. Nearby was James Sumrell, a 2015 alumnus of the Milgard School of Business and a U.S. Army veteran. Other UW Tacoma students, alumni and staff joined volunteers from Tacoma Public Schools, Camp Fire Orca, the Peace Community Center, Bellarmine Preparatory School, the Tacoma firefighters’ union, and other members of the Tacoma community, including childhood friends of Avery Bradley. The volunteers helped the McCarver kids try on coats and get just exactly the color that each wanted.

Earlier that morning, at an all-school assembly, the McCarver kids heard from Avery Bradley, who told them, via video, about what it was like for him growing up in Tacoma and attending Bellarmine Preparatory School. The kids, from kindergarten through 6th graders, paid rapt attention as Bradley talked about his memories of playing basketball at Al Davies Boys & Girls Club.

“I’m aware of how cold it is this time of the year, so I wanted to team up with Operation Warm to give [Tacoma children] a chance to have a fun experience of not only receiving some amazing coats, but feeling more confident about going to school, more excited about going to school, and being warm while doing it,” said Bradley.

“I knew that if I ever got an opportunity to give back and put a smile on kid’s faces in the area of Tacoma, I would take full advantage of the opportunity and give back to the community.”

Operation Warm staffer Kirsten Bradley said, “We were all so impressed with how quickly and enthusiastically the Tacoma community came together to support the children at McCarver. It was just an amazing amount of organization and people coming together to support children in your community!”

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Written by: 
John Burkhardt / February 17, 2017
Media contact: 

John Burkhardt, UW Tacoma Communications, 253-692-4536 or johnbjr@uw.edu