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.
Bright eyes and toothless smiles are regularly flashed at Little Nest Portraits, where the photographers specialize in children's portraiture. Owner Laura Novak and her quirky, talented staff love to fish for spontaneity and smiles during in-studio and outdoor photo shoots. Like backwards magicians, their trick is preparation: they chat with families beforehand to run down the session, pick up personality traits, and dish out tips such as what to wear. After frames are snapped, their home-design specialists can augment the prints with accessories such as hand-painted frames, canvas wraps, and gallery mounts.
Moments are captured in the comfortable studio, which creates a natural aesthetic with charming textures and a blend of modern furniture and antiques. Not content with merely decorating walls and mantels, the studio also strives to make its community more beautiful, giving back to a number of charities and working with school fundraiser programs.
At Gadaleto's Seafood Market, owner and operator Andy Gadaleto knows a quality catch when he sees it. Since 1945, a member of his family has helmed the market, accumulating a wealth of knowledge on swordfish, lobster, clams, and wild salmon, as well as more than 60 years of vendor relations that helps them acquire fresh products. Four generations later, quality seafood is still a passion for the Gadaleto bunch. On top of daily shipments direct from Florida, Alaska, and Maine, Andy or a family member travels to the freight terminal and wholesale fish market in Philadelphia to pick up other fresh seafood, such as scallops, oysters, and crabs, or swap news of the latest tariffs imposed by the merpeople. Beyond buying and selling sustainable seafood, Andy and the staff happily share their favorite recipes with curious customers.
Inflated structures, slides, and games fill the climate-controlled environs of the numerous BounceU locations that speckle the nation. At each site, staff members closely monitor all activities as little ones traverse obstacle courses or pull on oversized inflatable boxing gloves. The crew also invites parents to join in on the fun, letting them bounce alongside their kids or make sweeping edicts from atop a bouncy-castle throne.
In addition to open sessions, the indoor-play haven sets the stage for the Preschool Playdate program, where instructors lead games and activities. Special events include family-bounce night, which lets parents join in the bouncing or relax in the party room and do grownup things, such as eat marshmallows with a knife and fork.
The Mattress Factory's knowledgeable, non-commissioned staff guide customers to high-quality memory-foam, hybrid and innerspring mattresses from brands such as Tempur-Pedic, Sealy, Stearns & Foster and Beautyrest. Customers can shop at ease in an atmosphere that's free of sales pressure, price haggling, and the complex conversion of U.S. currency into the steel ingots accepted by mattress-making dwarves. The Mattress Factory will also set up your new mattress and remove your old one for free.
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