Be the Inspiration: Coats for Kids Project Tips from Rotarians


Rotary Clubs all over North America have partnered with Operation Warm to deliver brand new coats to children in need. The Coats for Kids project provides the physical warmth of well-made, colorful winter coats, but the benefits to children, communities and Rotary Clubs go beyond just coats, providing areas of service in education and more.

Rotarians who have experienced the benefits of the Operation Warm Coats for Kids service project have some words of advice for any Rotary club planning a coat giving project. The following project tips from Rotarians can help your Rotary project be a great success.

Meet the Rotarians

Rotary Operation Warm coats for kids projectDonna Lewallen belongs to the Rotary Club of Portsmouth in New Hampshire. The club is large and diverse with members of many different ages. Lewallen and her club have partnered with Operation Warm for more than nine years. She is part of one of the largest Rotary Clubs in the New England area with the number of members approaching 200.

David Robinette is a Past District Governor of the Overland Rotary Club in Missouri and has been involved with Operation warm for a few years. His Rotary Club is very active in service and is considered a small club, having approximately 20 members.

Ken Montville belongs to a Rotary Club of College Park in Maryland, a dinner club with a majority of members who are in academics. Montville first got involved with the Operation Warm Coats for Kids project last year and will be coordinating the club’s second Coats for Kids service project this winter. The club has approximately 30 members.

Fundraising Tips

“In the first year, we had great success in raising the money we had a goal for,” says Montville. “Part of that was because our members got behind it because it was a first-year type of thing, and part of it was because I wrote a greeting card to all of my client database in my job and asked them if they would contribute—so we got some contributions out of that, too.”

“If you want to have a successful fundraiser, put it out there. Let them know this is what it is going for,” says Robinette. “Most people, if you tell them while you are fundraising that it is going to go for this and it is going to go to the underprivileged kids in your area will embrace it. I don’t know too many adults, too many people who are not going to like the idea of helping kids. I don’t know of any hard-hearted adults who would not want to help a child.”

Many Different Options for Giving Brand New Coats

While the Operation Warm Coats for Kids project allows for joyful hands-on-service, there are many flexible options to fit into to how your Rotary Club wants to give.

“Know that you can do the project without directly giving the coats to the kids,” says Robinette. “I didn’t understand this the first time. If you have concerns about the kids being singled out, if you are worried about that, work directly with the school district.”

“We rely on the social workers to give us the count, to tell us how many they need, and we give it to the school, and they distribute it there,” he says.

Lewallen’s club reaches out to service organizations who supply her with an idea of the coats they need for their local populations. The club then orders the coats and provides the space for the organizations to come and collect what they need. “I tell them, ‘Give me your wish list,’” she says. “I can get a basic idea of what we need, and then they come to us to fulfill their order.”

Presenting the Project to Your Club

“I think one of the things that was an easy sell for me to the club was that it is run by a Rotarian,” says Robinette. “It is run by someone who understands what is going on and the values Rotary has. Sending them over to the Operation Warm website—if anyone had a question, that made it easier, too.”

“I put a lot of my enthusiasm behind it,” Montville says. “If you can get one or two people enthusiastic about it, they can make it go.”

“I think that the Rotarians just started seeing the value,” says Lewallen. “I would tell them that if they are in a northern climate, whatever they can do to help with the in-need population, especially the children who may stay home because they don’t have coats, or a homeless population they may not know about.”

“One thing I love about Operation Warm is that these coats are brand new,” Lewallen says. “I remember reading in a Rotary magazine about the start of this organization, and the fact that Richard Sanford found out after doing some research that there are children who don’t go to school in the winter because they don’t have a coat to wait for the bus, or they don’t have the right coat (they have hand me downs, tattered and torn coats). With Operation Warm, children can be proud and go to school, too.

Order Early

“Oh yeah, that is the other thing, too. Order early,” says Lewallen. “Sometimes people in the community don’t think about giving coats away until the holiday, but it already has been cold for two months. This is something the in-need organizations have told me, ‘We love getting these in early October, because even though the days are tolerable, it drops down to freezing temperatures at night, and people aren’t getting thinking about this.”

Just Do It

Robinette advises that when you come across an easy, interesting service project, just try it out.  “Just in general, is the idea of ‘just do it.’ If it doesn’t work one time, okay fine. Move on to something else, but just try it. I can guarantee you’ll be hooked on it [Operation Warm Coats for Kids project].

“It’s a great program, and the fact that Operation Warm provides all of the back-end resources and such makes it really easy to do,” Montville says. “It doesn’t require a lot of input, really. Just put it together and do it. You guys have the flyers and you have the social media hints, so that works.”

Interested in starting an Operation Warm community service project with your club?

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