Orange Rotarians keep children warm this winter

ORANGE — The Orange Rotary Club is making sure that no child is left out in the cold this winter. Through a partnership with a nonprofit organization called “Operation Warm,” more than 4,000 children in Bridgeport and New Haven will have new winter coats.

What began as a small project to help children in shelters in Bridgeport and New Haven has grown in just one year to providing coats to many children who would otherwise be without proper winter clothing.

The project was spearheaded by Baxter Walsh, an Orange Rotarian who learned of Operation Warm, a distributor of winter jackets that is operated by Rotarians. They “sell” jackets at cost to 30 to 40 Rotary Clubs and a few other agencies around the U.S. During the past 10 years they have distributed more than a million jackets to needy children.

In 2010 the Rotary Club of Orange purchased 120 jackets and gave them to two Bridgeport schools, the Bridgeport Rescue Mission and two shelters in New Haven. They were much appreciated and promised to do more next year.

In October, 2011, when Walsh asked the Bridgeport public school administration, to identify needy students who did not have warm winter clothes, the response was overwhelming with requests for 2,231 jackets. This far exceeded what the Orange club could afford, but by partnering with Bridgeport Rotary and with a matching grant from the Rotary District they were able to buy and distribute 444 jackets. That helped, but did not satisfy the greater need.

Late in December, Walsh was notified by Operation Warm that a benefactor had purchased a large number of jackets and that we could ‘buy” these jackets for just the cost of warehousing — less than a dollar each. A friend of a Rotarian who owns a trucking firm donated a large tractor trailer to pick up the coats at the distribution center outside Philadelphia. Orange Rotary requested a “truckload of jackets” and Operation Warm piled 4,200 jackets into the trailer. Through the School Volunteer Association of Bridgeport, Rotary received a grant from the United Way of $1,000. That amount combined with several donations from Rotarians and friends of the Rotary paid the warehousing charges. Another Rotarian, a real estate executive, arranged for a warehouse for temporary storage of the jackets and with the help of a volunteer with a forklift, members unloaded 21 pallets of jackets on Dec. 22.

The following Wednesday and Thursday, a team sorted and repacked 4,200 jackets for distribution to children in the Bridgeport and New Haven Public Schools. Tucked in the pocket of each these warm and stylish jackets will be a note asking each recipient to show their thanks by doing a good deed for someone else. The first delivery will be made to Bridgeport Thursday, Jan. 5.

“This has been a shining example of what Rotary is all about and how working together through networking and connections, we are able to make a difference in the community” said Diane Eger, President of Orange Rotary. “Not only were we able to expand the project, but we coordinated all the logistics in less than a week. It was truly impressive to see how our members and other volunteers in the community stepped up to help us make this project go from possibility to reality. ”