One Profits Most Who Serves Best
Service above Self is the primary motto of Rotarians, the community and business leaders of Rotary International who develop friendships as an opportunity for service. It is this idea, this passion for making a difference that has become a key part of Operation Warm.
In 1998, our founder Dick Sanford, became a charter member of the Rotary Club of Longwood. The club meets weekly for breakfast, fellowship and an interesting speaker, and organizes service projects in their local community and around the world.
On a cold December morning, Dick was driving in nearby Chester PA when he noticed children waiting for a bus; many waiting without an adequate winter coat. “How could this be? In such an affluent area,” thought Dick. Like many Rotarians, he is a man of action, and later that day, Dick purchased coats at a nearby store… all the coats they had…58 coats. Working with members of his Rotary Club who worked in the Chester schools, arrangements were made for Dick and some friends to undertake the first Operation Warm project. 58 students living in need received a gift of warmth, a brand new winter coat. The children were happy, their parents overjoyed. Rotary at work… Service Above Self.
Dick’s Rotary Club adopted Operation Warm as an annual club project the next year, and soon other nearby clubs joined the movement. The local Rotary District, comprised of 50 nearby clubs, purchased and distributed new coats for 2000 children for the year 2000. This service project was catching on, and with alarming rates of childhood poverty across the U.S., the need was significant. As happens with many Rotary projects, Operation Warm grew beyond its founding club, and became its own registered charity in 2002.
At about the same time, a Rotarian from the Rotary Club of Woodinville WA visited the Longwood Club. He heard an update on the club’s latest Operation Warm project, and wondered if he could take this to his club too. By this time, Operation Warm had already begun to efficiently source coats from manufacturers rather than local stores, and the newly formed Operation Warm organization soon had a west coast partner. Before long, a dozen Seattle area clubs had joined the mission, and a new Rotary Club community service project was gaining momentum across the U.S.
Now, Rotary Clubs all across the U.S. (and Canada too) partner with Operation Warm. Many join together to do large scale projects. In Southern Iowa, over 64 clubs partner together to bring the happiness and warmth of a new Operation Warm winter coat to over 18,000 children over the last two years. Rotary Clubs in the Youngstown OH area partner with a local radio network and the Ford Dealers Association to bring a gift of warmth to over 4,000 children in their communities. A dozen clubs in metro Detroit warm the hearts of over 6,000 kids, and in the Chicago area, 13 clubs organize projects in their local communities. Scores of other clubs undertake annual projects for children in need in their communities.
“Some of the children can’t believe that the coat is really theirs to keep. They’re really tickled. Many people don’t realize how great the need is for basics, like a warm coat. When you hear from the school administrators, you hear higher numbers than you expect,” say Debs Okenfels, who leads the Iowa effort. “The kids aren’t the only ones who feel warm and happy.” This brings to mind an old Rotary motto: One Profits Most Who Serves Best.