Operation Warm: Five million coats and counting12/20/2022 03:26PM ● By Richard Gaw
Photo by Richard L. Gaw Longwood Rotary member Luke Wozmiak volunteered with his fellow members to help youngsters try on new winter coats and shoes.
By Richard L. Gaw
Commemorating a milestone that has seen it distribute winter coats to more than five million children, the national organization Operation Warm distributed more than 200 new winter coats and pairs of new shoes to local children on Dec. 8 at LCH Health and Community Services (LCH) in West Grove.
Over the course of the evening, assisted by volunteers from Longwood Rotary, a steady arrival of youngsters – accompanied by their parents -- saw them try on and walk away with a wide variety of colorful coats and shoes. Formed by Kennett Square resident Dick Sanford in 1998, Operation Warm and its partners have offered the gifts of brand-new coats and shoes as a bridge for families in need to access everything from flu shots to new books – reaching over 2,100 communities across North America.
“We’ve gone from 58 coats in year one at La Communidad Hispana to more than 700,000 coats a year,” Sanford said. “We are in every town and hamlet in the country and it takes community engagement to make it all happen. This is the most important thing I have done in my entire life. I have built and sold many companies and while that has been fun and interesting, [Operation Warm] is impacting a child’s and a parent’s life.
“Often, these people have to make a choice between putting food on the table, fixing a flat tire, putting gasoline in a car to get to work or putting a new coat on a child. These are not second-class citizens, these are human beings, and if we can have communities around the country come together and graciously fund this to help other, why not?”
Sanford recalled the moment that ultimately compelled him to launch Operation Warm. On a cold Winter morning, he was driving along Cypress Street toward Kennett Square Borough when he saw a group of about six children at a bus stop. None of them were wearing coats and in order to stave off the cold, they huddled together for warmth.
“It’s more than a coat and a piece of clothing needed in order to remain warm,” Sanford said. “There is emotional warmth that comes out of this, as well. Here, the child can be proud of the fact that they have something brand new probably for the first time in their lives, so it shows that someone out there loves them and offers our Rotarians the opportunity to put a coat on a child.”
Founded in 1973, LCH began as a grassroots organization providing social services to Latinos working as migrant laborers in the mushroom industry. Today, LCH offers primary care, women’s health services, pediatrics, dental care, behavioral health counseling, social assistance, outreach, and educational support.
“We’ve had a rich 49 years of service to the community, and whenever two non-profits get together, it’s an example of a community that cares and gets together to deal with a pressing need,” said Ronan W. Gannon, chief executive officer for LCH. “We really try not just to be LCH, but community-oriented by working with other non-profits like Operation Warm.”
To learn more about Operation Warm, visit www.operationwarm.org.
To learn more about LCH Health and Community Services, visit https://lchcommunityhealth.org.
To contact Staff Writer Richard L. Gaw, email [email protected].