The Non-Profit Entrepreneurial Mission Of Dick Sanford: Operation Warm

The U.S. Census Bureau states that as of 2009 43.6 million people were in poverty, while the official poverty rate was 14.3 percent of the entire U.S. population. While these numbers pale in comparison to the 1 BILLION children that live in poverty across the entire globe (that’s 1 in 2 children – statistically – by the way), it stands to reason that something has to be done.

One inspired person who heard the call to action is Dick Sanford. Dick is the creator, Chairman, and CEO of Operation Warm, one of the largest non-profit organizations on a mission to clothe disadvantaged children in warm winter coats, as well as to educate them about their environment.

(NOTE: Our feature this week is aimed at inspiration. It may not pertain to business all that much, but it does illustrate the possibilities of making a change; making a difference – and using your entrepreneurial senses to manifest positive outcomes and not just profits. We could go on and on about the NAFTA agreements and what they’ve done to the apparel industry in this country. We could even go into specifics about bulk purchase orders, importing, and distribution – but we feel that would take away from Dick’s inspiring story.)

This call to action came in the form of a local newspaper article.

“I read an article in the local paper here in Pennsylvania that talked about children here who were freezing while waiting for their school bus because they had no warm coats. I just couldn’t believe how kids in our country could be freezing. We live in one of the most affluent counties within the commonwealth of Pennsylvania and I just thought that was astounding. I went down to a local shop in an adjoining town and I asked them how many coats they had in stock. They kind of looked at me like I was a lunatic and they asked ‘why?’ So I pulled out the article and said, ‘Because you’ve got kids literally freezing outside your door and we need to do something about that’.”

“I bought all the coats they had left in stock: 58 children’s coats. At that point I didn’t know where to find these kids, so I went to a local church that had contact with families in need. We contacted those families and they came into the shop several days later. I was just astounded at the impact that it had on them. These kids walked in with t-shirts on and very light plastic jackets (I wouldn’t even call them windbreakers). They started tearing up not believing they were actually getting a warm coat, nor could the parents. That really impacted me personally. I took the concept to my local rotary club, which I was a charter member of. It was around the millennium and they were looking for a project so I said, ‘Why don’t we consider putting 2000 coats on 2000 children. They too looked at me like I was crazy (where were we going to raise all that money?). I assisted them with some of the funding and we went about raising the rest and that was the start of Operation Warm.”

The Adventures of Clothing Crusaders

With only 11 people working within the immediate organization, you can guess that they probably work their tails off and that they have to be extremely passionate about what they do. The first year of Operation Warm 58 coats were gifted. The second year: 400. By March of 2012, Operation Warm will have supplied a jacket to their ONE MILLIONTH CHILD.

“They’ll get customized coats – they’re not uniformed. It would be a lot less expensive to build coats that are all blue, but from the beginning we didn’t want the kids to be identified as the ‘poor kid’ because they were wearing a uniformed coat. There are 12 colors for boys and 12 colors for girls and multiple styles for both. They pick out what they want. These are not second class citizens.”

“This year we’re even building coats out of recycled bottles so there’s a technology assist. We even have the children pay for their coats with recycled bottles, so they can learn about the environment as well. We had a major event here with urban outfitters and we are going to have a major event with the Philadelphia Zoo – the oldest zoo in the country. They are so supportive of this because of what we’re doing with recycled products.”

“We support 10,000 children in one day at the Chicago Housing Authority event. They bring in a host of vendors that support what the housing authority’s desirous of doing. Volunteers and funders like Pepsi, Chase, and Manhattan Bank offer FREE flu shots, and introductions to low-income insurance programs, as well as the ‘English as a Second Language’ program. Sadly, it’s difficult to get the children to come via the parents unless you’re telling them they’ll get a free coat.”

Helping Hands That Are Already Helping

When asked how everyone else could aid in his cause, Dick said:

“One thing they can do is go to the website OperationWarm.org and see where there are events throughout the country and participate as much as possible. Obviously financial support – we need throughout the year because that’s what makes this engine go. Without the funding we just buy fewer coats.  All we can do is keep doing our little thing and keep trying. The more we go out and speak and get audiences like your readers, the more people will read about it and become more socially aware. To me, it truly would be wonderful if people would help us – but if we could inspire anyone to do something on their own; if they’d do it and not just talk about – that’d be fantastic.  Everybody can help do something. I don’t care what it is, you have a responsibility as a human to turn around to your right or left; to see who are less fortunate than you are and, damnit, do something about it.”

You create energy by putting your brain to work. Just go do it.

To learn more about Dick Sanford and Operation Warm, please visit:

Website: www.OperationWarm.org

Facebook: Facebook.com/OperationWarm

Twitter: Twitter.com/#!/OperationWarm

About the Author: Daniel Ballard

Daniel is a Writer and Entrepreneur. He is Co-Founder/Main Author/Editor of BossStart and Co-Editor/Featured Author for BossStart's sister site, PauseStart, launching early 2012

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3 Comments + Add Comment

  • Gosh. I have so much to say about this I had to sit and compose my thoughts after reading it.. Some of Dick’s words are so powerful that I was floored. “These are not second class citizens.” That statement brought tears to my eyes.. We all too easily forget that our lot in life was a gift.. where we fall in the hierarchy of society is most simply: chance.. Sure, hard work helps a lot, but opportunities are not given out equally in this or any country, and people forget entirely too quickly how much credit SHOULD go to LUCK and CHANCE, first and foremost. This rings true especially for children. How lucky it is for some children, to be raised in a home of warmth and happiness, and how heartbreaking it is that some kids aren’t.. After reading this, I was compelled to donate and I hope that I am one among many who can thank BossStart for providing me this outlet to share my blessings with someone else.. I hope that one day, these children will pay it forward (and remember their humble beginnings when they are successful individuals) so that we can not only have one beautiful happy globe of warm, healthy children who feel LOVED, even by people who have never met them, but so that they can represent a society that they are PROUD to be a part of.. Thanks guys, for my Monday morning cup of conscience, and Dick.. thanks for reminding people everywhere that we ALL have a responsibility and calling upon us all to ‘damnit, do something about it!’.. you are an inspiration, darling!

    • Thank you so much Danielle. Your response is exactly the reason we wrote this article and shared Dick’s story. With as much passion as you have, you sound like you’re already running your own organization to help those in need – if you aren’t, you could/should be. Think about it. 🙂

    • Danielle – thank you so much for your kind words and thank you for your most generous donation. We need to touch more individuals like yourself and we will never be able to help all of these children- let us not forget- they never asked to be here!!! Have an absolutely fantastic day dick sanford

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