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Midvale Journal

Partnership brings 700 brand-new coats to children in need

Nov 25, 2019 10:00AM ● By Sarah Morton Taggart

Matt McLain (left) unwraps a new coat for Carlos Morales as his sister, Mia Morales, looks on. (Sarah Morton Taggart/City Journals)

By Sarah Morton Taggart | [email protected]

The Ruth Vine Tyler Library in Midvale is a place where children and families can access many resources, including free computer and internet access, after-school snacks and educational programs. On Oct. 25 it was also a place to get a brand-new winter coat.

Free coats were given out to 700 children who attend Midvale Elementary. The event was made possible by Operation Warm, a nonprofit organization that recently opened a regional office in Utah.

“I love how Operation Warm provides a way to help families get connected with the library,” said Matt McLain, associate director of community engagement for the Salt Lake County Library. “It is wonderful to be able to offer a soft, warm coat in addition to our services and resources. In this way, the library can help address physical, emotional, and educational well-being.”

“The gift of a brand-new coat means a lot,” said Grace Sica, vice president of corporate partnerships for Operation Warm. “Kids can pick out the color and size that they want. More than a coat, it’s the gift of warmth, confidence and hope.”

Each child also received a free book and a snack thanks to partnerships with the Salt Lake County Library and the Utah Food Bank.

Parents and their children began lining up well before the start time. Promptly at 3 p.m. they were ushered one by one into the meeting room piled high with coats. Families continued to arrive in a steady stream for the next several hours.

Community volunteers and McLain helped each child find the perfect coat. McLain easily found a bright pink coat for Mia Morales. Her brother, Carlos, wanted a blue one at first but then saw an orange one that he ended up taking home. Carlos tried it on and McLain had him reach up high and wrap his hands behind his back to see if the sleeves were long enough.

“I’d say I helped about 75 kids find coats,” McLain said. “Most found their coats quickly, and I think every child left smiling.” 

McLain is hoping this will be the first of many Operation Warm events with the county libraries. 

“Today’s event is a unique partnership that allows us to be right in the community where the need is,” Sica said. “We’ve shipped coats (to Utah) before, but now we have a staff person here. He’s really been able to build momentum.”

Mike Andrews has been Operation Warm’s manager for corporate partnerships in the Intermountain West for five months. When asked if he had a favorite moment from the afternoon, Andrews replied, “No matter where you go, there’s a story. There was a mother and grandmother who brought five kids. They were so thankful, so happy. They were just amazed that we were doing this.”

According to Andrews, many of the families that Operation Warm serves sometimes have to decide between buying food for the month or buying a coat for their child. New coats for children generally cost between $30 and $200. “Most of these kids have only seen hand-me- downs,” Andrews said. “We give them the power to choose their own coat and know that people in the community care.”

Operation Warm was established in 1998 and works with community partners to identify families with the most need. They often reach children who attend a Title 1 school like Midvale Elementary. A school qualifies for Title 1 status if 40% or more of the students’ families are at or below 150% of the federally-prescribed poverty level.

Rather than taking donated coats, Operation Warm partners with manufacturers to create their own. Each year the design is adjusted to keep up with trends. The coats are machine washable with detachable hoods and deep pockets.

Megan Hinton-Godfrey watched as Midvale Mayor Robert Hale helped her daughter, Indigo, select a coat. “This is her first brand-new coat,” said Hinton-Godfrey. “We usually get them from Savers. I have joint custody of Indigo, and things get lost. It’s good to have an extra.”

The mother and daughter had been hanging out at the library that day and wandered over to see why a crowd had gathered.

“We’ve lived here for a year and a half, and I’ve been in awe of how much Midvale offers in terms of resources,” Hinton-Godfrey said. “I grew up in California where they didn’t have the kinds of resources they have here. It really warms my heart.”