Rotary Club program bring coats to needy kids

Cockeysville man guides effort to buy coats for school children

  • Donna May, of Cockeysville, makes construction paper cutouts and gives them to contributors to the Rotary Club of Hunt Valley's Operation Warm, which provides new coats to children who need them.
Donna May, of Cockeysville, makes construction paper cutouts… (Photo by Steve Ruark )
November 21, 2011|By Steve Jones

One could call it the "imperfect storm." The weather is colder at the same time that the troubled economy has altered the living conditions of many area families, causing greater needs in many communities.

The Rotary Club of Hunt Valley and two financial services firms, Morgan Stanley Smith Barney and UBS, have combined to make the winter months more bearable for area children. Through a program known as Operation Warm, they have banded together to purchase new coats that will be given to needy children before the onset of another harsh winter.

"A lot of kids don't go to school because they're cold," said Matthew May, one of 40 members of the Rotary Club of Hunt Valley. "The question is, as a society that is so affluent, how can we have kids that are freezing?"

Operation Warm is a national effort started by the Rotary Club of Longwood, Pa., in 1998. Nationally, the project took in more than 225,000 coats last year.

Through the Hunt Valley club, May implemented Operation Warm in northern Baltimore County, and contacted guidance counselors at six area elementary schools asking about the number of coats needed at each site. They provided May with the number of needy children and their coat sizes. (The names of the children were not shared with May or any of the sponsoring organizations.)

Last year, a total of 110 coats were delivered to the six schools, but May thinks he'll need more this year — between 150 and 200 requests are expected.

"I was shocked that there was such a need in our area," said May, who works at the 77-employee Hunt Valley office of Morgan Stanley Smith Barney, and lives in Cockeysville with his wife, Donna, and their two children, Courtney and Kelley.

"We contacted one school that I figured would need two or three coats, and they came back with a request for 20 to 30," he said.

For the Hunt Valley drive, donations are distributed to students at six elementary schools: Pot Spring, Warren, Fifth District, Seventh District, Sparks and Prettyboy.

"We raise the funds and buy the coats, which get shipped to me, and then break it down to who needs what," said May. "My daughter and I, and an associate from UBS named Troy Elser, then deliver the coats to the schools."

At Warren Elementary School, in Cockeysville, the need for coat donations has doubled in the past three years — from 10 requests in 2010 to 20 requests this year.

"We have found in the past few years that if we want children to succeed, we have to take care of their basic needs, so that they can do better in school and in life," said Laura Sherline, a guidance counselor at Warren. "With the economy, jobs are less stable, and even if people are working they may have fewer hours at their jobs.

'When people are struggling financially, it's the right thing for our school to reach out and show caring to (the affected) students. It makes a difference when people outside the school take notice and commit to help out," she said.

May used to work for UBS, a competitor of his current firm which employs 52 people in Hunt Valley. But he tapped into the competitive nature of those who work in the financial services sector to maximize the collections.

"My wife makes these small cutouts of coats from construction paper," he said. "I walk around and tell (my associates) that if they buy a coat, I'll put the cutout on their office door or window, facing out.

"Invariably, what happens is I'll get a knock on my door, with someone saying 'Jonathan has two (cutouts), I want three.' We did that very successfully at UBS, and now here (at Morgan Stanley Smith Barney)."

A fourth source of funding is equally crucial to the success of Operation Warm: The Rotary Club of Hunt Valley sponsors a wine tasting fundraiser, which will be held Feb. 11, 2012, at Hayfields Country Club. May said between 80 and 100 people attend that event, which is a vehicle for the public to join in helping the coats effort. Tickets are expected to be $50.

For more information on that event, or to contribute to the coats drive, contact May at 410-340-9127.

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