On a cold December day in 1998, Dick Sanford was driving through the streets of Kennett Square, Pennsylvania, when he saw a group of children converged at a bus stop — not an uncommon scene, except that the children wore no coats.
Horrified, Sanford drove to a store and bought its entire stock of coats, all 58 of them. Though the kids he’d originally seen were long gone by the time he returned, Sanford decided to put the coats to good use. Along with members of his local Rotary Club, Sanford handed coats out to children in the community. That event stirred a fire within Sanford and, in fact, changed his life.
This small event inspired Sanford, a lifelong entrepreneur and businessman, to establish Operation Warm, a nonprofit organization devoted to providing coats for underprivileged children.
What’s unique about the organization is that it no longer purchases coats from department stores. They’re also not gently used and donated coats. Instead, Operation Warm designs its own coats to provide the recipients with good, lasting warmth — durable, new coats.
But why new coats? Why not gently used, donated coats?
According to its 2015-2016 statement, Operation Warm says that though they applaud coat donations, they believe providing new coats to children has a deeper impact than simply keeping them warm.
“We believe a new winter coat can be more than a coat,” the report states. “We believe it can tell a child, ‘You’re worth it,’ and help to build self-esteem through pride in ownership. We believe it can inspire happiness and warmth within a child while also increasing peer acceptance both inside school and outside while at play. Support in all of these areas gives children living in poverty a greater chance to be happy and successful in life.”
In 2016, Operation Warm had over 900 active partners across America who helped find children in need, fundraised on their behalf and supplied them with new coats. Last year brought a particular milestone: The organization provided its 2 millionth free coat to a child in need.
Want to help with the work Operation Warm is doing? Check out the organization’s website for ways you can donate and volunteer.