Lauren Holloway of Operation Warm notices a boost in children’s self-esteem when her nonprofit gives them a brand-new winter coat. For many of these children, it is the first new coat they’ve ever worn.
“When you see these kids walk through the line and put on their coat, their faces just light up,” says Holloway, media coordinator with the Chadds Ford-based program. “Their whole demeanor changes. You really can tell that their confidence grows.”
According to the United States Census Bureau, 18,000 children live in poverty in Wilmington. During winter, low-income families must prioritize how they spend their money. So it can be difficult to keep growing children in warm winter clothing.
“You would think that a coat for school is something you would have,” Holloway says. “But for a parent that is struggling to pay for shelter, for water, for food, to keep the electric on—it’s really tough.”
Dick Sanford, an entrepreneur from Kennett Square, started Operation Warm 20 years ago when he heard about coatless children waiting at a bus stop in 20-degree temperatures. The national nonprofit, which creates its own coats, estimates it will serves its 3 millionth child by the end of the year.
Last year, Operation Warm received more than 8,000 requests for coats in Wilmington and was able to serve nearly 6,000 children. The organization would like to double that impact this year.
The operation is also joining the green movement by purchasing sustainable coats. Operation Warm recently bought 15,000 coats made of recycled plastic bottles as part of its Green Guardian program.
In the meantime, there is a push to bring on more corporate partners to help boost the number of children it serves.
Operation Warm distributes coats from September through December.
For more information or to volunteer, visit operationwarm.org.