Americans are helping to keep kids warm in spite of the recent Arctic blast through Operation Warm, a charity that provides brand new coats to children from disadvantaged families. Founded by Pennsylvania Rotary Club member Richard Sanford, Operation Warm has provided more than a half million coats to children in 26 states since 1998.
12 years ago, Sanford read a local newspaper article about children suffering in cold weather while waiting for their school bus because they lacked winter coats. Angered but also inspired, he decided to take action, launching Operation Warm, to work with manufacturers to provide high-quality unused coats to kids in need.
“I couldn’t understand how something like this could happen. It broke my heart to see kids freeze because they didn’t have warm-enough coats,” recalls Sanford, the organization’s CEO and chair.
The Longwood, Pa, man’s first project in 1998 was to purchase 58 coats with his own money from a department store. He and members of his Rotary club distributed the coats to children in a low-income Philadelphia neighborhood.
Since then, Rotary has continued to play a crucial role in expanding fundraising and distribution for more coats, says Sanford. About 60 clubs in the United States have worked directly with Operation Warm, providing more than 25,000 new coats to children.
Kim Fremont Fortunato, president of the organization and a member of the Rotary Club of Wilmington, Delaware, says the quality of the coats is a key difference between Operation Warm and many other coat drives. “Most of the children we help have never owned a new coat,” says Fortunato. “We believe it improves their self-esteem. But most important, the coats we distribute will keep kids warm.”
Sanford says the organization has found many willing partners because people can relate to the children’s plight. “All around us there are poor children in this country who need assistance,” he says. “It’s our responsibility to help those who can’t help themselves. Seeing the kids’ smiles and excitement when they put on their new coats is an incredible experience. This is an enormously powerful project.”