More than 300 students at Baltimore’s Holabird Academy in O’Donnell Heights received coats from Operation Warm to prepare for colder temperatures on the horizon. (​​Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash)

By Marnita Coleman,
Special to the AFRO

The students at Baltimore’s Holabird Academy in O’Donnell Heights are now well-prepared for the change in seasons, thanks to Operation Warm, a national nonprofit that manufactures coats and shoes for kids in need.

Come what may, hot or cold, on Nov. 15 from 9 to 11 a.m., 384 students from pre-K to fifth grade received brand new coats from Operation Warm, an organization funded by the Maryland State Department of Education.

“It’s a full-service event enabling every single kid in the building to get a coat,” said Benita Vargas Brown, community school director at the Y in Central Maryland. “We have over 25 volunteers, so the kids [are] one on one for their coat experience.” 

“They come in by class, get measured up in size, pick from the rack of coats, which color and which design they would like, then move through the line with their volunteer, who [writes] their first name, last name, and their homeroom number in their coats,” said Brown.

Operation Warm provides high-quality coats, designed and styled in line with current fashion trends. The coats have detachable hoods with built-in protection from the wind and snow. The coats have fleece lining to keep kids warm, deep pockets so their hands won’t get cold, and they are water repellant for the wet winter day. Machine washable materials make for easy care. 

Operation Warm works with community partners such as the Y in Central Maryland to identify children in need. Most often, the kids that receive coats attend Title 1 schools, where 40 percent or more of the student population live at or beneath 150 percent of the federal poverty level. Kids may also be identified by living in a shelter, or through a human service agency or other direct-service organization.

Basically, when a school makes a request for coats and shoes, the school is placed on Operation Warm’s wish list, and its funders have an opportunity to choose from that wish list. This year they had a funder who specifically wanted to target an elementary school in southeast Baltimore. It significantly reduced the number of schools that were able to receive the grant. From that small list of schools, not all of the schools had applied for the wish list. It all came down to the selection of three schools, one of which was Holabird Academy.

A big part of receiving a grant is responsiveness. When the funder contacts a school to say they are interested in funding their wish list, it’s a very quick turnaround. 

On October 15, the funder indicated they were going to sponsor an Operation Warm event at Holabird Academy and scheduled it for November 15.

“Baltimore indexes high on our wish list. When funding is available, it can increase the impact in Baltimore,” stated Heather Connolly, vice president of partnerships for Operation Warm. 

Connolly proudly announced that they are planning a December celebration to recognize the organization’s impact of 24 years of manufacturing, serving 5,000,000 children, reaching over 2,100 communities across the nation, and offering more than 165,000 volunteer hours.

Connolly is pleased with the mission of Operation Warm and said she enjoys seeing how happy kids are when they get to pick the coat they want. 

“Kids don’t have the opportunity to make choices for new clothing. As a parent, given the state of the economy with things being expensive, having one less thing you have to buy is really helpful and alleviates the burden,” she said.

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