TENNESSEE (WATE) — In preparation for cooler days, several East Tennessee elementary school students went home with new winter coats on Tuesday thanks to Tennessee First Lady Maria Lee.

“Everyone deserves to stay warm,” said 5th grader Grace Bachali who is one of several hundred students at Oneida Elementary School going home with a new winter coat.

“Of course, the weather is getting cooler, students have needs. We’ve already seen a lot of students in our district who have needs that we have to meet whether it is school supplies, so this is something different that provides a basic need for all students,” said Melinda McCartt with Oneida Special School District.

Scott and Morgan Counties are two of the top five distressed counties in Tennessee with the poverty rate at around 22 percent according to TN.gov. First Lady Maria Lee is working to help people in these areas through her initiative Tennessee Serves by partnering with the non-profit Operation Warm and giving free coats to elementary students.

“For the last 23 years we’ve been manufacturing and working with awesome partners like the first lady’s office, to give this gift of warmth, confidence, and hope to children who need it,” explained Heather Connolly the VP of Partnerships For Operation Warm.

Between Oneida Elementary and Huntsville Elementary School, 700 kids received new coats.

Connolly adds, “being willing to give a gift like this is so meaningful. So, working closely with her team as they’ve been identifying the students in the counties across the state that could really benefit from this help. So, the first lady does remarkable things across the state, and this is just one of her signature projects.”

“We are grateful for the opportunity to partner with Operation Warm to meet a physical need for students in two of Tennessee’s distressed counties as we enter the winter months,” said Lee. “Students in our distressed counties face unique challenges, and these new winter coats will provide a source of warmth and comfort for years to come while alleviating financial stress for families during this season.”

It’s a gift that those with the school district say they appreciate, and so do the kids who get to take their new jackets home.

“We heard that the first lady was going to give us jackets and I think it’s really nice of her because some kids don’t have jackets, and this way, they can keep warm and don’t have to get frostbit or anything like that this winter,” said Bachali.

Operation Warm is a national nonprofit that manufactures brand-new coats and shoes for children in need.

In addition to Huntsville and Oneida Elementary, students at the following schools will get free coats from Tennessee Serves:

  • Burchfield Elementary School
  • Coalfield School
  • Fairview Elementary School
  • Huntsville Middle School
  • Oakdale School
  • Petros-Joyner School
  • Robbins Elementary School
  • Sunbright School
  • Wartburg Central Elementary School
  • Wartburg Central Middle School
  • Winfield Elementary School

If you would like to find a way to give back to the organization, you can click here. To find out how you can participate in Tennessee Serves, you can click here