A Rotarian’s Take on Partnering with Operation Warm

By Ron Hollenbeck, President of the Rotary Club of Centerville, OH

Back in 1998, Rotarian Dick Sanford brought a unique service project to our club. I was the Community Projects Director of the Longwood Rotary Club in Kennett Square, PA, at the time, and Dick was a longstanding member of the club. He approached me with a club project he wanted to call Operation Warm.

The idea behind Operation Warm was to provide brand new winter coats – not used coats – to children in need in Chester County, PA. After a successful year club-wide support, Dick asked me to represent this project at a PETS conference in Nashville, TN, to encourage other clubs to do new “coats for kids” projects.

Within a few short years, Operation Warm outgrew the Longwood club, and Dick turned it into his own non-profit. Today, the organization has provided almost 3 million brand new coats to kids across the country.

In the meantime, I moved to southwest Ohio and became the Director of Community Projects at the Centerville Rotary Club. Our board agreed to start a local Operation Warm project with an initial goal of 100 coats. That year, we more than doubled our goal and, over the last five years, our club has provided 1,362 new winter coats to children living in poverty! This has become a signature project for the club every fall.

We secure funding for the new winter coats through our Happy Dollars from July to September and through a local district grant request. Our members not only love the simplicity and ease of participating in this club service project but they willingly give generously to the project.

Our non-profit beneficiary Hannah’s Treasure Chest provides struggling families with household necessities and helps our club obtain the necessary coat sizes. We then place the order on Operation Warm’s website, and the coats arrive a week later.

“It is with our deepest gratitude and honor to partner with Centerville Rotary for the annual Operation Warm coat program,” remarked Sarah Williams, Executive Director of Hannah’s Treasure Chest. “Without the club’s support and fundraising efforts, many of the kids we serve would have gone without warmth.”

As many clubs do, my club supports several projects, but Operation Warm’s mission resonates most with me. The fact that it was birthed from my club and remains heavily involved in Rotary – with over 200 club partners – just provides me even more assurance and satisfaction when are serving humanity.

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