Operation Warm close to giving away 1 millionth coat

As Operation Warm nears the delivery of its 1 millionth coat to a needy child this upcoming season, the founder recalls the day 13 years ago that motivated him into action and the community effort that’s been culled to fulfill this basic need.

In 1998, Dick Sanford, founder, CEO and board chairman of Operation Warm, was reading an article in the Kennett Paper about children wearing no coats during winter.

‘What are we talking about?’ the former owner of micro-computer distributors Intelligent Electronics said. ‘This is right down from Longwood Gardens, Mr. du Pont’s home.’

He drove to the former clothing store, Silverstein’s, in Kennett Square.

‘I bought all the coats he had,’ Sanford said. ‘It was 58.’

Unfamiliar with how to distribute them, his church directed him to the Chester County-based La Comunidad Hispana, and the children were brought to the shop after hours.

‘These kids (were) walking in the front door with a T-shirt on,’ Sanford said. ‘I almost fell over. I (saw) the tears. That was just very, very heart rendering.’

As a member of the Longwood Rotary, he lobbied to have the nonprofit service organization raise funds to provide coats for 2,000 children as part of its Millennium Project.

By 2001, Sanford was establishing a nonprofit status for what became Operation Warm, which last year distributed 183,000 new coats to children in 33 states through shelters, schools, Salvation Armies and Junior Leagues.

Sometime between now and March 2012, Sanford said the organization will have handed out its 1 millionth coat.

He emphasized how the outerwear is more than just an article of clothing.

‘It has become an item to get a child to school,’ Sanford said.

He said as the children outgrow the coats, the staff and volunteers notice when they are passed down to younger siblings.

For some children, these coats are used in multiple ways for warmth.

‘They sleep in these things,’ Sanford said.

Yolande Elduiz, 47, of Upper Darby recognizes the value inherent in Operation Warm’s mission.

Her three children – a 3-year-old, a 5-year-old and an 8-year-old – received coats in November.

‘It’s really helpful,’ Elduiz said. ‘They had jackets that were too small.’

Two years ago, Elduiz’s husband died of cancer and then last April, the former nurse was involved in a hit-and-run accident that injured her back and right leg and aggravated her osteoarthritis and carpal tunnel.

As the coats became too tight, the mom turned to the social worker at the Highland Park Elementary School for help.

Through Operation Warm, Elduiz’s daughter got a pink coat and her sons received a burgundy and black and an orange and black coat.

‘They love them,’ Elduiz said. ‘They just love new things. Being able to get the new jackets through this program was such a blessing. It made such a difference that I was able to get the ones from the school.’

Sanford said the coats are manufactured in China, but he visited Haiti two weeks ago to evaluate facilities in the northeast section of that country.

‘For every person you employ, you directly impact about six people,’ he said, adding that the manufacture move would reduce the carbon imprint by about 4,000 miles of travel.

The organization also plans to make 25,000 coats next year out of 30 plastic bottles each, he said. However, the organization wants to gradually increase the number of environmentally sensitive made coats as funding allows.

‘We don’t want to shortchange the number of children,’ he said.

In the end, Sanford said all the partners, like Wawa and Riddle Hospital, and all the volunteers are working toward the same result.

‘That’s what our goal is: to help others in our community,’ he said. ‘To do the right thing is what we’re talking about.’

Donations are accepted at Operation Warm’s website, www.operationwarm.org.

 



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