Spreading the warmth at East Franklin

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By Dedra Cordle
Staff Writer

Several students at East Franklin Elementary School model brand new winter coats they received through an initiative called Operation Warm Up Columbus. The program, which is a partnership between the non-profit organization Operation Warm, the locally-based company Abercrombie & Fitch, and several other community partners, aims to support low-income families in the region through warm and fashionable winter gear free of charge. The westside school was selected via a grant application submitted by third-grade teacher Tinleigh Cobus.
Tinleigh Cobus, a resident of Grove City, is shown here with several coats and numerous boxes filled with coats to be distributed to the entire student body.

Tinleigh Cobus says it is not in her nature to make people cry.

“I never want to be the reason for that reaction,” said the third-grade teacher at East Franklin Elementary School.

And yet there she was last month, making her boss, her peers, her students, and a majority of the student body along with their families unleash the waterworks because of her actions.

“I really didn’t expect this would happen,” she said. “I just wanted to try to do something that could bring positivity to our community, especially with all that has gone on this year.”

The idea for what would eventually become this emotional event was put into action several months ago, but the groundwork for it was laid well before she ever stepped foot into the school on the westside.

When Cobus, a resident of Grove City, was starting her career in education at Imagine Columbus Primary Academy, she was witness to a winter coat giveaway for children courtesy of local partners working alongside a national non-profit organization called Operation Warm. Though she was not responsible for writing the application for the grant that brought the program to the school, the memories of that day imprinted into her mind.

“I remember watching all of those children and adults laughing, smiling, and crying because of what they were given thanks to the generosity of others,” she said. “It is hard to forget something like that, something that you know had made an immediate and lasting impact on a child and their family.”

Fast forward to 2020 and that program was all she could think about.

“Those images just kept popping into my head,” she said.

She attributed it to a combination of recalling fond memories during tough times and the circumstances of this unusual year.

One of the most unique aspects about working in a remote or blended learning model, Cobus said, is that teachers get an intimate look at the family dynamics of their students.

“It can be very eye-opening,” said Cobus. “We interact with the parents more in this setting and sometimes they start to open up to you and tell you about what is going on in their lives.”

She said during these conversations, she has learned that several parents are struggling financially, some even losing their jobs to the novel coronavirus while some are at an increased risk of losing their employment. She said it is difficult to hear, knowing that she can only do so much to help.

“It is a challenge all of us educators are facing,” said Cobus.

She began to brainstorm ways she could possibly bring some joy to the families in this small school community and kept coming back to Operation Warm.

Through a bit of research, she discovered that the non-profit was accepting grant applications to bring the winter coat giveaway program to schools in the Columbus area.

She knew what she had to do.

“I have never written a grant before but I knew I had to try,” she said. “I had thought our chances of being selected were low, especially with me being new to grant writing, but you never know what can happen until you try.”

As the weeks went by, she got more anxious for status updates. Then when little bits came from the organization, it ramped up further.

Then, early last month, she received the news she had been hoping to hear – that all of the students at East Franklin were going to get brand new winter coats courtesy of Operation Warm, the Columbus-based Abercrombie & Fitch, and several other local partners.

“It was such a relief to hear,” said Cobus. “The people in this community deserve to have something positive happen in their lives.”

She began to tell the staff at the school what had happened, who then began to tell the parents, who then began to tell their kids though it was supposed to be a surprise. Still, it didn’t stop the smiles, the laughter, and the tears from flowing when the 207 coats were distributed before a holiday break.

“It was a really heartwarming sight,” said Principal Matthew DeCastro. “There are so many families in our community struggling right now and to have this happen is an amazing thing that could not have come at a better time.

“I am so proud of Tinleigh for going after that grant, so thankful for the organizations and companies that helped bring coats and clothing to children in need, and just so appreciative that our school was selected to receive them.”

He added that he wasn’t even upset with Cobus for making everyone cry – again.

“They were all tears of happiness,” he said.

During the week of Nov. 23, Operation Warm Up Columbus distributed more than 5,000 new coats to children in the Columbus area elementary schools. East Franklin was the only school from the South-Western City Schools District to receive coats this year.

Operation Warm, which is headquartered in Pennsylvania, was founded in 1998. It has helped deliver more than 3.5 million coats to more than 1,200 communities nationwide.

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