Unmet Basic Needs in Urban Cities: Rotary Clubs to the Rescue


Kids in Operation Warm Coats

Many urban cities are struggling with finding the necessary resources to help its struggling poor with basic needs. A Rotary Club can be the collaborative leader in helping to support those efforts. Deb Hannon Silcox of the Rotary Club of Baltimore shared a little bit about the need in her city and what her fellow Rotarians are doing to support children and families.

“Some of our neighborhoods are like living in a war zone,” says Deb Hannon Silcox, a native Baltimorean and incoming president of the Rotary Club of Baltimore City. “People living in gentrified neighborhoods around our beautiful Inner Harbor rarely, if ever travel through neighborhoods of extreme poverty. The saddest thing is that many people have no idea how families are trying to survive without a living wage and in food deserts with boarded up buildings that children need to walk past to get to schools. Sadly, it is the tale of 2 Baltimore’s.” Silcox is talking about the families and children that live blocks from the hustle and bustle of the business district and Baltimore’s renowned Inner Harbor. “If you don’t see it, you just don’t think about it.”

Silcox and her fellow Rotarians are committed to service and helping others in need. That is why they are a cherished partner with Operation Warm, delivering over a thousand brand new coats to kids on Baltimore’s west side. Her club’s focus is on the children and families of Baltimore City. Silcox knows that a brand new Operation Warm coat is more than a coat. When you give a child a new coat, it not only keeps him or her warm, but builds self-esteem. “Many kids get hand me downs, my kids did, but when a kid is able to choose a new coat in the color and style they like, it helps them feel good about themselves. It makes a difference,” she says. “Their self-esteem gets a lift. They don’t feel ostracized because they are poor. They feel like other kids.”

“There are around 85,000 children attending Baltimore City public schools, which nearly all are Title 1 schools.” A title one school is one in which at least 40 percent of the children attending live in poverty. “There is a huge need for just the basics in our impoverished neighborhoods,” Silcox says. “The local food bank has a program of some type in well over 100 schools. Schools provide, in many cases, the only meals a kid will get that day, but what about being warm in the winter while you are waiting on the transit bus? Having only a hoodie or sweater on a snowy or freezing day can stop a child from attending school. Not only that but sometimes a child will wear their coat in the home if they lack heat.”

“Through my work at City Schools, I would hear from principals that the need for outerwear was so great kids in families were sharing coats; they would alternate days they went to school. Kids can’t learn and for some not eat, if they aren’t in school.”

The need is large, but so is the commitment of Silcox and the Rotary Club of Baltimore City “I have grandiose plan,” she says. “My club goal is to provide 5,000 coats this year.”

“I am challenging my Rotary club, but I am also challenging others in my district to fill a basic need for our youngest citizens. Each city is different. I wish more Rotary clubs would take advantage of this program because with Operation Warm it’s easy to make a difference in your own city. The need is great in every city or town that has freezing temps in the winter.”

“When I became a Rotarian, I knew we needed to do this,” she says. “Not only are we addressing a real basic need, but Rotary is recognized as an organization doing something good and meaningful in the community. We must seek to help change the face of childhood poverty. The payoff – when you help a child select a coat and see the joy on their face and have parents’ thank you over and over – you know you are doing good work for your community.”

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