• Kim Piekos

Rotarians Provide Warmth to Needy Children

By Kim Piekos

The boxes labeled Operation Warm overflow with colorful, two-toned parkas, sized for children big and small, as three men cheerfully unpack them. It’s time for the annual Rotary Club of Lake Forest-Lake Bluff to distribute the new coats it has collected for needy children in neighboring Lake County towns.

“I love doing this work,” says Rotary member and project leader David Schafer of Pasquesi/Sheppard, a Lake Forest-based accounting firm. “It’s very rewarding to me to know that we’re helping taking care of children who need to stay warm this winter.”

Peter Elmer, David Schafer and John Barth display some of the hundreds of coats they deliver to those in need.

For the past 13 years, the Rotary Club of Lake Forest-Lake Bluff Rotary has participated in the national Operation Warm program, a nonprofit started by a Rotary Club member in Pennsylvania. Local members can purchase a case of new coats to donate or members can donate “happy dollars” to the cause, a tradition each week in which members share happy news about themselves or their loved ones at a local Rotary Club meeting and donate money towards the cause in thanksgiving for their good fortune.

“There’s so much good going on out there, and Rotary is an example of an organization that is very generous,” says Rotary Club member and fellow coat distributor Peter Elmer.

The local Rotary Club has donated 6,000 coats to children via North Chicago Community Partners in North Chicago, Waukegan School District and the Nuestro Center in Highwood. This year, it will donate another 420 coats in a range of sizes. “We place the order as early in the season as we can each year, but often we have to wait until it gets cold outside before schools really know who needs a coat,” notes Schafer.

Rotary Club of Lake Forest-Lake Bluff’s membership of more than 50 business and community leaders is part of a larger worldwide volunteer organization of 1.2 million members in 200 countries. The local club focuses its philanthropic efforts on addressing humanitarian needs, providing educational opportunities and alleviating health concerns.

Local Rotary Club President John Barth sums up the power of local leaders banding together to make a difference. “We come together to assist communities in need,” he explains. “Whether we’re purchasing shelter boxes for Haitians living through a natural disaster, providing clean water to a town in Africa or giving new coats to children nearby who need them, we’re taking care of things in our local community and the larger world. “Another Rotary Club would offer aid to us if we had a disaster here, and that’s pretty unique.”