Detroit Rotary clubs’ coat distribution campaign will warm hearts. From the Detroit Free Press

By Columnist Rochelle Riley. Published October 7, 2012

Every winter, I ask myself: How do people do it? How does a normal body handle abnormal cold?

But then I think about Michigan and all the amazing people here and the wonderful work so many do for children — and I just put on another layer and, once again, roll up my sleeves.

This time, I’m rolling them up with the Rotary clubs of Detroit and Grosse Pointe, not just because they’ve been providing community service for more than a century, but because they care so muchabout children.

This month, the clubs are partnering with the Philadelphia-based Operation Warm to collect and distribute 12,000 new winter coats to needy children in metro Detroit. When I was asked to serve as honorary chairperson of the campaign, my first thought wasn’t Rotary. My first thought wasn’t coats. My first thought was children.

We can’t do enough for the children in our community who face such turmoil and endure so much violence either first-hand or vicariously. We can’t do enough for children who see themselves portrayed in the national media as victims whether they are or not. We spend plenty of time looking at the huge problems children face, but not enough time on the mundane but heartbreaking daily challenges they deal with, like getting enough to eat or having warm clothes to wear to school in the winter.

Enter Operation Warm, the nonprofit founded by a Philadelphia business executive who bought 58 coats and helped his Rotary Club chapter distribute them to a nearby school. In the decade since, Operation Warm has distributed more than 1 million coats and now works with more than 100 Rotary Clubs in
more than 28 states to collect for coats.

Our state is one of them, and this latest Michigan effort is a joint one featuring the Rotary Club of Grosse Pointe, the Rotary Club of Grosse Pointe Sunrise, the Rotary Club of Detroit and the Rotary Club of Detroit AM.

Snuggle Rotary, a fund-raiser, is so exciting that I said yes before Mike Carmody, executive secretary of the Rotary Club of Grosse Pointe, could finish asking me to help.

The added benefit of a Rotary partnership is that you become connected to the courageous and hardworking groups they work with. In this case, I am connected by heart to the Children’s Center of Detroit, Matrix Human Services, Crossroads of Michigan, For the Seventh Generation and the National School Lunch Program in Grosse Pointe, Harper Woods and St. Clair Shores. These groups are slated to help distribute the 12,000 coats I know this effort will successfully buy.
Folks, we live in Michigan. I’ll never forget the winter weekend my late aunt, Nell Lewis, a dynamic, veteran, Dallas educator came to see me honored by the Lewis College of Business for community service. After she’d returned home, I asked her what she thought of my cool state. She said: ‘I packed a
lot and put on everything I had, and I was still cold.’

But she loved my community and the work going on here. And she would be so proud of my connection to this effort.

How much does it cost to help send a child to school warm and ready to learn? Where these coats are concerned, it’s $20. After you read this, I hope you, like me, will forgo a few restaurant dinners, skip a movie and help send several children to school warm this year.

You’ll be a little warmer for the decision, at least where your heart is.

Contact Rochelle Riley: 313-223-4473 or

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