Providing Coats for Kids in Need Through American Manufacturing
Operation Warm, a nonprofit organization providing brand new coats for children in need across 49 states and the District of Colombia since 1998, has been manufacturing coats through U.S. manufacturing companies for more than three years with significant success. The nonprofit organization has contributed to 450 jobs in 14 states. Their new partnership with SEKRI, a Kentucky-based nonprofit organization that employs people with disabilities in the manufacturing industry, will expand Operation Warm’s U.S. coat production.
Recently serving their 2 millionth child, this new expansion is a double win for Operation Warm. It allows the organization to keep up with the demand for coats manufactured in the United States while adhering to its mission of helping the most vulnerable. Choosing to manufacture the coats in the U.S. is not the easiest route for the organization since it is challenging to find local manufacturing companies that are affordable and can keep up with the demand. It costs significantly more to manufacture in the United States, but the decision has been the most rewarding and mission-minded.
“There were challenges when we started our U.S. coat production three years ago as there was a learning curve for all of us about the manufacturing industry and process,” says Richard D. Sanford, founder and chairman of Operation Warm. “While there has been a decline in U.S. manufacturing positions especially in the apparel industry over the last several years, we believe through our U.S. coat production program, we are involved in the front-end of a revolution to reinstall these positions.”
Often asked why the organization chose to manufacture new coats at all instead of just holding coat drives for second-hand coats for children in need, Sanford explains that for him these children are not second-class citizens and that they deserve a brand new coat of their very own. And for many, the coats Operation Warm provides are the first new coats they have ever received. The coats are designed in the latest styles, in sizes for boys and girls, and come in various color selections (chosen by the child). During the last few years, Operation Warm has expanded from giving away 15,000 American-made coats a year to more than 100,000. The partnership with SEKRI will ensure that the organization can keep up with this growing demand.
“By partnering with Operation Warm, we receive the unique privilege of providing jobs for people with disabilities by helping to manufacture winter coats for children who might not otherwise have a new, warm coat for the winter months,” says Norm Bradley with SEKRI, Inc. “We have similar missions and are able to assist Operation Warm by manufacturing as many coats as possible here in the U.S.”
Partnerships—like the one with SEKRI—have been instrumental in Operation Warm’s success. Sanford knew when he founded the organization that this was not a mission he could accomplish alone. Using his extensive business and philanthropy experience, Sanford sought to make key partnerships like ones established with the International Association of Fire Fighters and Chicago Housing Authority. Firefighters in 200 locations across the country assist Operation Warm. They work to identify children most in need of new winter coats, take the orders for new coats, conduct fundraising for the organization and then distribute the coats.
Chicago Housing Authority partnered with Operation Warm in 2008 after an introduction from the city’s mayor. Distribution began with a small community service event that reached 4,000 children in need and their families. Since that time, it has grown into a large service fair hosting 40 organizations and distributing 10,000 coats each year.
“Operation Warm’s mission resonates with our organization because we both serve the same population and recognize the importance of investing in children in order to place them on a pathway to achievement and economic independence as an adult,” says Kristen Hamer, director of corporate and external partnerships at Chicago Housing Authority. “Our partnership has allowed us to leverage our residents’ interest in obtaining winter coats for their children while placing them in front of a large number of organizations providing a variety of valuable resources that can benefit their entire family.”
Operation Warm continues to focus on building partnerships both with manufacturing businesses as well as corporate sponsors interested in supporting the organization’s mission. An example of this is the cause marketing partnership they have with Hollister Co., which last year raised funds for a holiday buy-a-coat, give-a-coat program. For more information and to contact the organization about manufacturing and sponsorship, visit OperationWarm.org/Partnerships.