The Kalispell HEART Program is teaming up with the Kalispell Firefighters Association to distribute up to 250 warm winter jackets to elementary school children in need from the Kalispell and Evergreen school districts.
The Oct. 16 event, called “Warm-Up Wednesday,” takes place from 4 to 6 p.m. at the HEART Locker at 514 E. Washington St. in Kalispell behind Taco Bell. The HEART Program has already identified a number of coat recipients based on need, but any other kids who need a winter jacket are welcome to attend with their families, according to HEART Program Director Nichole Heyer.
The children will pick out a jacket and meet local firefighters at the event. The HEART Program will also be serving hotdogs, hot cocoa and other treats and to the students and families in attendance. Firetrucks will be on hand for students to tour, with firefighters providing fire-safety information.
The Kalispell Firefighters Association (IAFF Local 547) started a three-on-three basketball tournament seven years ago to raise funds for community causes. Mike Chappuis, a captain with the Kalispell Fire Department and member of Local 547, said the tournament has ballooned into a major annual event, providing the funds to purchase coats for kids in need. It hosted 110 teams and over 400 participants this summer in downtown Kalispell, with 36 local business sponsors.
“We just try to tell the community how thankful we are to be employed with the city of Kalispell and give back a little bit,” Chappuis said. “We try to find kids in need and buy them a brand new coat.”
In past years, firefighters have partnered with HEART to distribute the coats at individual schools, as opposed to the single-location pickup of this year’s event. Chappuis said the association has handed out roughly 1,200 jackets to date.
“These are just amazingly good humans we have here serving our community,” Heyer said of the firefighters. “We’re very, very fortunate.”
The Kalispell HEART Program, which stands for Homeless Education and Resources Together, provides support for homeless students in the Kalispell and Evergreen public school districts through its market, fund and free store programs.
The free store, called the HEART Locker, dispenses donated clothing, hygiene products, bedding, school supplies and more to K-12 students at its Kalispell location. Its learning center provides a quiet and safe space for students to complete homework, study, use a computer, connect with resources, find employment and more.
The HEART Program serves hundreds of students each year experiencing homelessness and precarious living arrangements. Heyer is the homeless education liaison for the Kalispell and Evergreen school districts. She was named the 2018 national homeless education liaison of the year by the National Association for the Education of Homeless Children and Youth.