The Journey of an Operation Warm Coat

by Rachel Chernaskey

Operation Warm operates across the United States and has given millions of children in need access to brand-new coats that keep them warm throughout harsh winter seasons. But how exactly does an Operation Warm coat get to the child that will use it? Elizabeth Lewis, Operation Warm’s Director of Operations, explained the formation each coat undergoes until reaching its final destination. She’s in charge of product procurement, warehousing, shipping, and all of the other logistics that go along with getting kids the coats that have been specifically made for them—so she knows the process inside out. Here’s a look.

The Beginning of the Journey

In the beginning of the process, Operation Warm starts not with the coats themselves, but with the money needed to buy coats they will later give. (Operation Warm is proud that it provides each child with a brand-new coat for the winter; for some children, this will be the first piece of brand-new clothing they have ever received.) “We want to cover as many children as possible, so each year we raise as much money as we can to order coats for the next year,” Lewis says. Because Operation Warm is not a coat drive, but rather purchases brand-new coats to donate, fundraising is a year-round effort, and crucial to the success of the Operation Warm mission.

Order Up

Meanwhile, Operation Warm staffers research fashion trends and styles each December to ensure that the coats give kids a self-esteem boost when they put on their eye-popping outerwear for the day. Popular demand from the previous year is factored in as well: Keeping kids not just warm, but happy and confident too, is a top priority. Because Operation Warm coats are new, the company includes in its design a label for the child to write his or her name on the coat. The coat is theirs to call their own, worn by no one else before them.

Once the money for the coats is raised and the design elements are determined, the “pre-production” process gets rolling. Operation Warm communicates directly with its partner manufacturers—located in both the U.S. and overseas in China—to develop prototypes that match the quality, design and branding Operation Warm aims to distribute. Lewis explains that sometimes a color might look great on paper, but not-so-great in practice, which might start the selection and design process over from the start. Final selection on designs happens, the prototypes are approved, and the official order is placed with the manufacturer.

Creating the Coats

The manufacturers get to work on bringing the Operation Warm visions to life. They produce hundreds of thousands of coats, and by starting in the springtime, the coats will be ready by the upcoming winter season. By mid-September—just as temperatures in the U.S. are dropping—the coats are ready for distribution.

Up next: Making sure the coats get to kids in need. Working with partners in communities across the country such as schools, shelters, churches and other charity organizations, Operation Warm gets the coats to the kids who need them the most. Many of the children receiving Operation Warm coats attend schools where 40 percent of the students’ families are at or below 150 percent of the federally determined poverty level.

The coats are shipped to the community partners who know the children in need, and the outwear is distributed to the kids themselves. When the coats have finally finished their journey from design board to child, they will not only warm the children who receive them, but help them feel confident, included and happy. And for Operation Warm, the process begins all over again.

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