Helping to Break the Grip of Childhood Poverty with Coats for Kids


On a cold December morning in 1998, Dick Sanford was driving to work when he saw a group of shivering children huddled together waiting for the bus, coatless. The sight spurred Dick to head straight to the nearest department store, where he purchased every coat in stock. With the help of his local Rotary Club, he distributed 58 coats for kids in need, and Operation Warm was born.

While Operation Warm is now much larger than our humble beginnings, our mission remains the same: to provide brand-new coats for kids in need. Today, we produce and distribute our own coats, which allows us to control the quality and style of the coats we provide. This ensures that these coats become more than just a piece of clothing to these children in need, they are a daily source of warmth, joy and pride.

But some may ask “Why?” Why, among countless worthy causes, should you support our work to provide coats for kids? Well, it’s pretty simple. These blameless children need our straightforward assistance to help break the complex challenges of disadvantage that they and their families struggle with each day.

According to recent statistics, 15 million children in the United States, which is about 21% of all children in the country, live in families below the federal poverty line. For a family of four, the poverty threshold means that they are living on no more than $24,000 a year.

Poverty pervades every aspect of a child’s life and has been shown to impact their development. Specifically, poverty negatively affects a child’s ability to learn, and it can affect their social, emotional and behavioral wellbeing. Poverty may also disrupt physical and mental development. And with these disadvantages stacked against them, the cycle of poverty can be even harder to break out of from generation to generation.

Providing for a family comes with tremendous financial responsibilities, but for parents living in in the grips of poverty, just keeping up with the bills each month is a constant juggle of priorities. For parents like single-mother Martina, they must make hard choices on what to sacrifice, and when. In order to cover basic needs and today’s often rising housing, food, utilities, transportation and health costs, something has to give. Often, that something, is new, warm clothes for the family.

“It is really a struggle financially. I am basically doing everything on my own,” Martina said. “Getting a coat for my child really helps. I don’t have to worry about getting Jazae a coat or getting her boots. I don’t have to worry about having to choose.”

While we know a coat alone can’t solve poverty, we know it can change a child’s life for the better. We know that a brand-new winter coat is more than a coat – it can change a child’s life and empower them with greater self-confidence, increased school attendance, and overall wellness. Most importantly, it tells a child, “You’re worth it.”

Since our establishment, Operation Warm has been built on Dick’s founding principle: “I believe it is our personal responsibility to help others.” And that is just what we will continue to do for these children in need.

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