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Rotary clubs help needy with warm coats

PAMPLIN MEDIA GROUP: BARBARA SHERMAN - Jay Gilbertson, director of the Tigard Senior Center, gets ready to load up six boxes of coats destined for the Bethlehem House of Bread with volunteer Marisa Walloch.Hundreds of local needy kids have gotten new warm coats this fall thanks to the generosity of the two Tigard Rotary clubs.

The coats were distributed through Operation Warm to several charitable organizations, and on Nov. 5, volunteers from the Bethlehem House of Bread came to the Tigard Senior Center to pick up three dozen coats.

The Bethlehem House of Bread runs a food pantry and provides clothing, hygiene products and social services at the former Metzger United Methodist Church, and Jay Gilbertson, director of the Tigard Senior Center, is a member of the Tigard Noon Rotary and had six boxes of coats to turn over to Bethlehem volunteers.

Gilbertson relayed the story of how Operation Warm started in the late 1990s: Rotarian and Pennsylvania resident Dick Sanford was watching television and saw some kids shivering without coats at a bus stop. He went to a department store and purchased 60 coats and donated them to the school that the kids attended.

That single action kick-started the program, which has now spread across the country and grown by leaps and bounds; three years ago, Rotary clubs donated their one millionth coat, according to Gilbertson.

“Lots of Rotary clubs do it, and firefighters do it,” he said. “Six years ago, the Tigard Noon Rotary president heard about it and started a local program.”

Gilbertson has taken it on as his project with the club, and the Tigard Breakfast Rotary Club also got involved. The first year, 150 new coats were donated, and this year 450 coats were purchased for donation during the first week in November.

The coats are ordered through Operation Warm at a cost of $18 for smaller ones and $20 for larger ones, which are paid for by grants and Rotary club members. In July, clubs apply for grants, and the Rotary International Foundation provides up to $2,000 to each club that requests funds, according to Gilbertson.

Gilbertson said they encourage Rotary members to buy a box — which costs $108 — and includes six coats to a box; this year, the total order was 75 boxes. In the past, all the coats were made in China, but this year, half of them were made in the United States.

Bethlehem House of Bread received six boxes — or 36 coats — and all coats come in bright colors in children’s sizes 5-6 to XXL. Inside, their labels read, “Made by Operation Warm just for you.”

Bethlehem volunteer Marisa Walloch explained, “The food pantry is open Sundays from 1 to 3 p.m., and we have racks of clothes. Families can come every Sunday for clothes and once a month for food.”

According to Bethlehem pastoral director Linda Dove, this is the first year that coats have been offered, “and we have already had three people ask for them.”

On Nov. 9, Dove posted a photo of two kids wearing their new coats on Facebook with the comment, “Junior and Estrella were excited with their new winter coats from Tigard Rotary. Rotary donated 36 new kids’ coats last week, and we gave away all but a few of them yesterday. The rest will go out quickly next Sunday. The need is great! Thank you, Tigard Rotary!!!!”

Bethlehem House of Bread is located at 9055 S.W. Locust St., Tigard.

For more information, visit the Tigard United Methodist Church's website or call 503-639-3181.