President Tammy Duering awarded Dick Sanford, founder of Operation Warm, with Rotary's Community Service Excellence Award. 
Dick Sanford, Operation Warm's founder, reminded us that Operation Warm was started by the Longwood Rotary Club 20 years ago this year when Dick decided to do something about the children he saw waiting for school buses with no coats during the winter. The club joined Dick in buying new coats for 58 kids at a local store. From that beginning it has grown into a separate national operation that will provide new winter coats for 425,000 kids attending kindergarten through sixth grades this year.
The coats will be distributed through 1,000 events spread through across all 50 states. The events are managed by Operation Warm in conjunction with corporate, Rotary, fire house, union and other sponsors. The sponsors fund and help staff the three hour events where up to 500 kids shop for their new coat. Every sponsor finds this to be one of the most satisfying activities they can do. Often those who work at the event find themselves in tears at the overwhelming joy the kids show in their new coat, possibly the first truly new piece of clothing they ever owned. The coats are a source of immense pride and confidence for their wearers. 
The coats are designed by Operation Warm in new styles and colors each year. This is critical to building and maintaining the confidence and pride of the kids, since there can be no stigma associated with the coats. The coats are manufactured in China, saving two-thirds of the cost of manufacturing in the US. They are then shipped by Federal Express as part of a corporate relationship Operation Warm has built to save cost and provide an immensely popular corporate event for Federal Express. This proven model is under pressure from the current tariff "war" with China. Therefore Dick is evaluating potential manufacturers in other countries in southeastern Asia. 
To better meet the needs of children now and help ensure a better future, Operation Warm is starting a new program variation in the US. When coats are delivered at events the kids will also be able to choose two new books from a selection designed by their teachers. They also sign up for a library card. The impact of this program can be immense since reading at grade level is one of the strongest predictors of academic success. The test results have been excellent with over 70% of the kids becoming active users of their library.
The other expansion effort under way is geographic. With the assistance of Federal Express Operation Warm will begin serving kids in Europe soon.