FALL RIVER — The Samuel Watson School on Eastern Avenue is an old school, and some of its students have problems that are even older, problems people have had for millions of years.
Food. Shelter. Warmth.
On Tuesday, members of the Fall River Fire Department showed up to help.
Demographically, about 30 percent of students at Watson are considered homeless, many of them living in transitional housing in the area, housing where you can only stay a year.
“That weighs heavily on a child,” said Principal Cathy Carvalho. “They don’t have childhoods. They don’t know what that means.”
Firefighter Jason Burns, head of the union representing the city’s firefighters, said he’s familiar with some of the transitional housing in the area.
“We go there all the time,” he said. “Every call you go on, you’re walking into families that are struggling.
“We don’t go into a lot of $600,000 homes,” Burns said.
So, on Tuesday, Burns and a bunch of his union brothers and sisters showed up at the school with 300 new winter coats.
“That’s one for every kid in the school,” Burns said.
The union partners with a national organization called Operation Warmth. Operation Warmth uses its buying power to get the coats at a lower price than retail.
“We give them money, they give us coats,” Burns said.
Burns raises the cash in person and online. The department is supportive. They’ve done it for three years, passing out over 1,000 coats at Fall River schools.
Carvalho said some students showed up Tuesday not dressed for the weather.
“I questioned a few who came in sweatshirts today,” she said. “I gave a couple of them hats.”
In Ali Bielawa’s classroom, District Chief Jeffrey Bacon stood in front of the class.
“Every one of you is going to leave here today with a warm new coat,” he said.
That got a cheer.
Firefighters were fanned out throughout the building, giving away coats, smiling, helping a kid put on a new coat.
“I like it,” said Jarod Fournier, grade 5, as Burns helped him into a new coat.
“I got my favorite colors,” said Fournier’s classmate, Gage Hackett-Howsley. “Blue and orange.”
“A lot of these kids don’t have stable living conditions,” Carvalho said. “Many are coming here, and they’ve seen domestic violence or the drug culture. A lot of it is domestic violence.
“Sometimes, it’s just the economy,” she said.
“They tell me they don’t make friends because they don’t know when they’re going to move again,” she said.
The Samuel Watson School is an old school, but on Tuesday afternoon, it was a little bit warmer.