Firm gives jackets to crossing guards

John Muir sixth-grader Hannah Covert wears one of the 350 jackets donated to Modesto elementary schools Friday.
(Joan Barnett Lee/The Modesto Bee)
John Muir sixth-grader Hannah Covert wears one of the 350 jackets donated to Modesto elementary schools Friday. (Joan Barnett Lee/The Modesto Bee) Modesto Bee

Hannah Covert and her fellow crossing guards at John Muir Elementary School in Modesto have to march out onto the street surrounded by the hazardous elements of fall and winter mornings.

"It's really foggy, misty, wet and slippery," said Hannah, 11, a sixth-grader.

Dan Costa, chief executive officer of 5.11 Tactical Series company, remembered the same kind of cold and risky weather he dealt with as a fifth-grader working the crosswalks near Franklin Elementary School.

"We used to walk out in the fog on Maze (Boulevard) and Emerald (Avenue), and it only had a stop sign back then," said Costa, 53, about the intersection that now has traffic lights. "You couldn't see the traffic guard on the other side of the road. We used whistles, but you had the big rigs out there; it was hairy."

That's why Costa's company donated 350 waterproof, high-visibility jackets to student crossing guards at Modesto schools. The jackets have a retail value of $140 each, making the 5.11 Tactical Series donation worth $49,000.

Costa said he and his wife, Denise, are Modesto natives, and they were looking for ways to give back to their community. He came up with the idea one recent, cold morning when he spotted a pair of crossing guards while driving near a school.

"I saw a couple of kids and they were just shivering," Costa said.

So he decided to give the children insulated jackets with hoods to keep them warm, dry and safe. Modesto-based 5.11 Tactical Series creates uniforms, footwear, jackets and other gear for law enforcement, military and firefighting professionals.

Costa hopes the jackets will instill pride in the students who wear his company's gear.

"It's not just a generic jacket," he said. "It's the same jackets being worn by the best in law enforcement."

The company made the donation to the schools through the Modesto police traffic unit, which trains elementary school students working as crossing guards.

Randy Buchanan, director of the Modesto police's School Safety Patrol, distributed the jackets to 38 elementary schools within the city. He said the reflective jackets are vital equipment that schools can't afford.

"The bright fluorescent colors are needed, so they can be seen by the drivers," Buchanan said. "Plus, they can wear these warm jackets in the wintertime when it's cold. They donated enough that I could give all the schools jackets."

In warm weather, the student crossing guards wear fluorescent-colored vests. Buchanan said the jackets offer the children more reflective material needed when thick fog rolls in and visibility drops.

"The wintertime is the most dangerous," Buchanan said. "There's more moisture out here. And some people just aren't paying attention when they're driving through here."

Buchanan monitors student crossing guards across the city, making sure they're doing their jobs.

Wendy Huesca, 11, said she worries about visibility when she helps her John Muir Elementary classmates and their parents get home safely across the intersection of Lucern and Hunter avenues. It's a small intersection, but hundreds of drivers rush through in a short amount of time, and the crossing guards need to stay alert.

"Sometimes I wonder if (the drivers) can really see us," said Wendy, a sixth-grader. "Sometimes you can't really hear them coming."

Bee staff writer Rosalio Ahumada can be reached at rahumada@modbee.com or 578-2394.