The Issue: Children Living in Poverty Without Winter Coats
More than one in five children in the United States—roughly 15.7 million—were living in poverty in 2010, according to the United States Census Bureau's American Community Survey. In order to afford basic necessities, many of these low-income households forego purchasing new winter coats for their growing children. This may cause the children to miss school on cold days or put their health at risk when they go outside.
The Campaign: Distributing Winter Coats to Children in Need
All donations to this Grassroots campaign will be used by Operation Warm to distribute new winter coats to children from low-income families. For every $10 raised, combined with matching donations up to $15,000 from International Delight, Operation Warm can purchase and distribute a winter coat to one child in need. Operation Warm works directly with manufacturers to obtain quality new coats at the lowest cost possible, and then distributes them at events in low-income housing areas and community centers. Donors to this campaign can specify in which state they would like to provide a donated coat.
Founded in 1998, Operation Warm distributes winter coats to children across America, protecting their health and safety as well as buoying their spirits. We spoke to executive director Rich Lalley about the organization’s history, mission, and accomplishments.
After reading a newspaper story about children waiting at a bus stop on a cold February day just a mile from his home, retired businessman Dick Sanford was "outraged," Lalley said. "He couldn't understand how children in his community could be without coats. He went to a department store and bought all 58 children's coats in stock" and distributed them through a school, whose superintendent he knew from the Rotary Club. "Dick was blown away by the reaction of the kids and reaction of the parents."
Why a New Coat Means More Than Comfort
"Our motto is 'more than a coat,' and I like to say we bring happiness and warmth to children through a new winter coat," Lalley said. "When they get a brand-new winter coat all their own, it's like Christmas day. You will hear stories of a girl who wears the coat to bed for three weeks, the boy who wants to wear it into April. It's oftentimes the first new piece of clothing the children have received in their lives. They feel better about themselves, and when they feel better about themselves, children perform better in school."
"This Coat Was Made Just for You"
"One of the first coat distributions I was on was at a little afterschool program in [Chicago’s] Rogers Park. A Rotary Club near Rogers Park provides a great deal of support to this little afterschool program called Family Matters. One of the little girls looked at me and said, 'Thank you for the coat. When do I have to give it back?' And we said she could keep it. That's why all our coats have the label 'this coat was made just for you' sewn inside and kids can write their names on it."
Kid-Friendly Coats Made in the United States
Operation Warm distributes hundreds of thousands of new coats around the country each year—so many that it contracts with factories to make coats specifically for it. The organization's coats are brightly colored and have extra-deep pockets and detachable hoods, and they come in sizes 3T to adult large. Although domestic manufacturing tends to be expensive, Lalley says 20% of its coats (about 60,000) are made in a union factory in the United States.