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Pa. organization exceeds fundraising goal for first responder ballistic vests

The “Invest in Vests” fundraiser raised enough money to buy 92 vests for firefighters, EMS personnel and police

Roger DuPuis
The Times-Leader (Wilkes-Barre, Pa.)

EXETER, Pa. — So many generous donors came forward that an area service organization’s drive to protect first responders is looking to expand across the Susquehanna River.

The Wyoming Area Kiwanis Club created a fundraising campaign for this year called “Invest in Vests,” with a goal of generating $21,000 to purchase 70-rifle plated vests and first aid kits for distribution to law enforcement officers, firefighters, EMS, Wyoming Area school resource officers and members of the Greater Pittston Ambulance Association who serve the West Side in the Wyoming Area School District territory.

Those vests are valued at $300 each.

Thanks to steady support over the past two months, organizers went into a Thursday night fundraiser at Sabatini’s Bottleshop within 10 vests of their goal. By the time the night was over, they had topped the benchmark by 22, hitting 92 vests.

That means organizers are now looking to donate vests to agencies on the other side of the river in the greater Pittston area, club president and campaign co-chair Michael Coolbaugh said.

“It’s just been amazing to see how many people and businesses came forward to invest,” added co-chair Tiffany Callaio.

Coolbaugh, a longtime law enforcement officer himself, recognized the need for the vests as many municipalities simply don’t have the funding to purchase additional equipment for their departments.

The vests also reflect changing, more dangerous times, in which emergency personnel responding to incidents — including fire and ambulance crews — all too often find themselves at risk of being shot at.

Given Kiwanis’ dedication to promoting causes that benefit children, Coolbaugh said these vests make it safer for first responders who may be aiding children in potentially volatile situations.

Kiwanians purchased the first six vests using club funds and distributed them to the police departments of Exeter, West Pittston, Wyoming, West Wyoming, Falls Township and the Wyoming Area School District.

The plan for the 70 vests was to provide two vests per vehicle for up to 35 vehicles, including police and ambulance vehicles; fire departments will receive at least four vests per department, and at least two vests each will be provided to each of the four schools in the Wyoming Area School District.

Coolbaugh and Callaio said the next step is to determine the needs of departments and schools on the other side of the river.

Donors to the program ran the gamut from Kiwanis members and businesses to local individuals and families, including people with ties to police and first responders.

Just to name a few: The Pittston Rotary chipped in for its fellow service club, as did Wyoming Area Catholic School, West Pittston Tomorrow, the family of the late Exeter Mayor Joseph Coyne III (himself a police officer), the Dr. Jen’s Hope Foundation, and Leonard and Barbara Insalaco of West Pittston in memory of their son Lenny, who lost his life while battling a fire in Pittston City in 1993.

For more information on the program, visit the club’s Facebook page by searching for @WAkiwanis.


©2020 The Times Leader (Wilkes-Barre, Pa.)