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International families get free coats (photo gallery)


The timing for Saturday’s Agent Outerwear winter coat giveaway at Thomas Jefferson International Newcomers Academy could not have been better.

As nearly 300 CMSD students and their families played winter-related games and posed for photos in front of a backdrop of a snowy mountain inside the warmth of the school gymnasium, the first pellets of real snow fell on Cleveland.
The snow didn’t accumulate, but the brief October shower served as a reminder that another Northeast Ohio winter is almost upon us. The change of seasons is particularly ominous for a school of students who in many cases have come from climates where they haven't experienced snow and cold.

“And maybe it’s going to be another bad one,” said Iris Guzman, a native of Puerto Rico who has weathered four Cleveland winters, but who said she has family members heading into their first. “It’s so cold already.”

If so, the handful of children brought to the near-West Side school on Saturday by Guzman, her daughter Luz Trinidad and a few other family and friends will be warmer, thanks to donations from Agent Outerwear and partner Continuous Energy Services LLC. Thanks also go to volunteers from St. Ambrose Church in Brunswick, who were recruited by Cleveland ward Councilman Joe Cimperman to help with the distribution.

Agent Outerwear owner and founder Lindsay Pavlich said the Orion, Mich.-based company has committed to giving away a winter coat to a child in need for every coat it sells. “It’s the new definition of ‘Global Warming,’” the company website says about the ongoing program.
She said Continuous Energy Services donated money to purchase an additional 1,000 coats, allowing the “Get Warm, Give Warm” campaign to make stops at school districts in Detroit, Toledo, and Cleveland.

“I really believe that whatever skills and talents you have, you should use them to help other people,” Pavlich said. “We’re still a young company, but we wanted to start out right and do some good for people.”

Get Warm. Give Warm 2015
That would include Mohammed Masoud, who brought his family to Cleveland from Afghanistan earlier this summer, and his 10-year-old daughter who stood in line with him Saturday.
Neither spoke much English, but his daughter was all smiles when Pavlich personally fit her with a snug, pink winter coat to replace the raincoat she had been wearing (see photo, at right).

“She wanted a pink coat, that was all,” Masoud said, smiling.
The Newcomers Academy, located on West 46th Street near Clark Avenue, works with students in preschool through 12th grade who arrive from other countries and Puerto Rico and need help learning English and different customs. Most students stay about two years before transferring to another CMSD school.

Refugees comprise perhaps a third of enrollment that totaled 545 when school began this year but has been growing toward its capacity of 800, Principal Marisol Burgos has said.
“So when Agent Outerwear contacted the District through our office and said they would have about 300 coats to give away, we thought of Thomas Jefferson right away,” said Judith Lozada of the District’s Family And Community Engagment (FACE) office. “So many of the children there already have a need, but many of them also come from warmer climates and haven’t yet seen a cold winter.” 
Families who waited patiently in line Saturday were also treated to games, refreshments, a book giveaway and other free gifts at the all-afternoon event. More than 20 teachers from Thomas Jefferson volunteered to run the winter-themed games, Lozada said.

Ana America watched as her 11-year-old daughter scooted along on a makeshift bobsled-like course on the west end of the gymnasium.

“We came here (from San Juan, Puerto Rico) in January, so we remember how cold Cleveland can be,” she said. “It’s so important to keep warm for all of the kids, so they can get to school and not be sick.”