Providing warmth to children in need

By Ron Hollenbeck, Past President of the Rotary Club of Centerville, Ohio, USA

Back in 1998, Rotarian Dick Sanford brought a unique service project to our club. I was the Community Projects Director of the Rotary Club of Longwood in Pennsylvania, USA at the time, and Dick was a longstanding member of the same club. He approached me with a project he wanted to call Operation Warm.

The idea behind Operation Warm was to provide brand new winter coats to children in need in Chester County, Pennsylvania. After a successful year with club-wide support, Dick asked me to represent this project at a Presidents-elect Training Seminar (PETS) in Nashville, Tennessee, to encourage other clubs to do similar “new coats for kids” projects.

Within a few short years, Operation Warm outgrew the Longwood Club, and Dick turned it into his own non-profit. Today, the organization has provided almost three million brand new coats to kids across the country.

In the meantime, I moved to southwest Ohio and became the Director of Community Projects at the Rotary Club of Centerville. Our board agreed to start a local Operation Warm project with an initial goal of 100 coats. That year, we more than doubled our goal and, over the last five years, our club has provided 1,362 new winter coats to children living in poverty. This has become our annual fall signature project.

We secure funding for new winter coats through our Happy Dollars from July to September and with support from a district grant. Our members not only love the simplicity and ease of participating in this club service project, but they willingly and generously give to the project.

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Our non-profit beneficiary, Hannah’s Treasure Chest, provides struggling families with household necessities and helps our club obtain the necessary coat sizes. We then place an order on Operation Warm’s website, and the coats arrive a week later.

“It is with our deepest gratitude and honor to partner with Centerville Rotary for the annual Operation Warm coat program,” remarked Sarah Williams, Executive Director of Hannah’s Treasure Chest. “Without the club’s support and fundraising efforts, many of the kids we serve would have gone without warmth.”

As many clubs do, my club supports several projects, but Operation Warm’s mission resonates most with me. The fact that it was birthed from my club and remains heavily involved in Rotary – with over 200 club partners – just provides me even more assurance we are serving humanity.

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