“We were all very surprised and we were very fortunate that none of us broke down and cried,” John Litchford, Battalion Chief for the Milwaukee Fire Department, said. “I myself was quite moved by it.”
For the last four years, the Milwaukee Fire Department has organized the Warm Up Winter Initiative which has provided more than 16,000 new winter coats to children ranging from K3 to sixth grade in Milwaukee schools.
“We actually have every child sized and it’s for that specific kid,” Litchford said.
In November, Litchford and other firefighters and Warm Up committee members were at St. Anthony School on the southside of Milwaukee giving nearly 1,000 coats to all of the St. Anthony students, including a bright pink coat that they gave to Kaylee Guijosa Orozco, a student in K4.
Her response caught them off guard.
“This is the first time we’ve had a child, especially of this young age, specifically say, ‘This is my piggy bank money and I would like to give back to the next group of kids that are going to receive coats next year,’” Litchford said.
Litchford said Kaylee presented a Ziploc bag with coins and currency and a thank you card to the firefighters. In the card, Kaylee, with her mother’s help, expressed her gratitude, writing, “Thank you so much for not only fighting fires, but also for fighting the cold for all the kids at St. Anthony School.”
“We get ‘thank you’ notes in the thousands and those are fantastic and we love reading them,” Litchford said, adding they often read them “on those bad days.”
The Warm Up Winter Initiative raises money in several ways to purchase the coats, one being the “fill the boot campaign,” that Milwaukee
To the Warm Up Winter Initiative through the website: www.warmupwinter.org
drivers likely see on street corners during the summer.
“The way we raise money is we send every fire engine and truck out for a four-hour period for three straight days over the summer,” Litchford said. “That’s how we raise the money — through people’s spare change, and that’s all we’re looking for.”
Kaylee’s mom, Sandra Orozco, said her daughter would see the firefighters with a boot in their hand during the summer on the way home from daycare.
“We would pull over and they would give them the change that we had,” Orozco said of her drive home from daycare with her children.
Later on in the year, they heard about the Warm Up Winter Initiative and Orozco said she remembers asking Kaylee a question.
“Do you think it’s a good idea to give your money away to them?” she said. “It wasn’t a lot because she had just emptied it out a while ago to buy a toy.”
Orozco said she was a little surprised by her daughter’s response.
“She said, ‘Yeah, I think that’s a good idea,’” Orozco said. “I kind of asked her to (donate), but it took her to say, ‘Yes, I want to give my money away’… I don’t think it’s that common for a 4 or 5 year old to say.”
In all, Orozco, a member of St. Adalbert Parish, Milwaukee, said Kaylee gave roughly $10 to $15.
“It made me feel really good, as a parent,” she said.
In the December St. Anthony e-newsletter, school president José Vásquez praised the generosity of his student.
“I was pleased to hear the story of gratitude from our K4 student, Kaylee. With the help of her mother, she sent the firefighters not only a heart-warming card, but also all the money she had in her piggy bank. She told her mother that she wanted to help the firefighters so that they could continue providing more children with warm coats,” he wrote.
According to her mother, Kaylee’s response wasn’t completely random.
“She’s the type of kid that would give other people her stuff to have something instead of her,” Orozco said. “I always told her if you have something extra and you see somebody struggling or you see someone that needs it more than you, and if you don’t need it, it’s always nice to give it to the next person…. You never know how bad they need it.”
Orozco, an employee at Target, remembers driving with Kaylee one hot summer day. When they exited the freeway they saw a homeless man on the street.
“She’s like, ‘Why is that person there? It’s really hot out,’” Orozco said. They didn’t have any cash but they had water bottles. “She’s like, ‘We have water; do you want to give it to them?’”
Orozco said she told Kaylee they could give the man water. Kaylee passed her mom a bottle of water and Orozco passed the water to the homeless man.
“As we were driving off she’s like, ‘You know what, Mommy? Sharing is caring and that’s really nice that we’re doing that for people,’” Orozco said. “It kind of comes from her without me even asking … I think it’s just her character. She’s literally an amazing kid.”
So far Kaylee has already learned one of life’s big rules.
“If you do good, you earn stuff. If you do bad, things get taken away from you,” Orozco said, adding Kaylee is always asking to help around the house. “She’s a little grown up person in a 4-year-old body.”
Even though they haven’t been parents for long, Orozco and her husband, Eduardo, an employee at Sic Lazaro, feel confident they’re doing the right thing for Kaylee and her sister, Kimberly, 3.
“I told my husband I’m proud of the work we put in them,” Orozco said. “I work first shift, he works second shift; we’re not always together as a family but when we are, we try to make the best out of it.”