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Area organizations’ goal is to keep kids warm this winter

Al Oller from Waukegan Rotary Club helps students North Elementary School zip up their  new winter coats thwere donated

Al Oller from the Waukegan Rotary Club helps students at North Elementary School zip up their new winter coats that were donated to families in need as part of Waukegan School District 60's annual Coats for Kids campaign on Tuesday, Nov. 26. | Dan Moran/Sun-Times Media

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For the children

Warming the hearts, minds and bodies of children, Operation Warm and the Coats for Kids Foundation inspires hope and empowers communities by providing new winter coats to children in need throughout the U.S. Since 1998, Operation Warm has provided the gift of warmth to more than 1.2 million children.


2013 Lake County Supporters

Lake County supporters of Operation Warm and Coats for Kids were Baxter International, Thrivent Financial for Lutherans, the Waukegan Rotary Club and employees from the city of Lake Forest.

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Updated: January 27, 2014 2:46AM

November’s recent imitation of December is a challenge to families in need, particularly for those with children who have outgrown last year’s winter coat.

This week, that specific need was addressed for some 700 children in the Waukegan School District, as four different organizations provided new winter coats as part of a project known as both Coats for Kids and Operation Warm.

Rafael Mendez, a residency officer/homeless consultant with District 60’s Student Support Services, said the program dates back to at least 1998 and tends to grow from one winter to the next.

“I think this year, it’s safe to say there’s about 700 kids (participating) throughout the district, and there could be more, because I’m still getting names coming in,” Mendez said on Tuesday, Nov. 26, as members of the Waukegan Rotary Club prepared for a drop-off at North Elementary School.

“We try to give them out when the weather breaks, when it starts to get cold,” added Mendez, saying that whenever the distribution takes place, “most of the donators like to be here to see the looks on the kids’ faces.”

The four benefactors for 2013 were Baxter International, Thrivent Financial for Lutherans, the Waukegan Rotary Club and employees from the city of Lake Forest.

Ted Poulas, chairman of Operation Warm for the Rotary Club, said members spent Tuesday morning traveling to five different schools that had been assigned to their group — Carman-Buckner, Clearview, Lyon Magnet, Oakdale and North.

“We started in September, (and) what we do is we work with Rafael Mendez and get a supply of names from the school district,” Poulos said. “This year, I think it was 144 coats we supplied from the Rotary Club between the five schools.”

Poulos added that when the Rotary Club first became involved three years ago, the number of recipients was closer to 80. Along with donations from members, the cost for 2013 was covered with a grant from Rotary International.

Eric Christensen, director of Student Support Services, said children from homeless families are given first priority in the coat drive, and then social workers at each school will work with parents and guardians to identify all other children in need of not only coats but hats and gloves.

About two dozen recipients — all wearing their new coats, some of which still had their tags on — came to the North Elementary lobby to meet with Rotary members and pose for photos. This week’s distribution was scheduled to take place at schools throughout District 60, which closes Wednesday, Nov. 27, for Thanksgiving recess.

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