Giving Back For the Holidays and Beyond
Podcast #11 — Aired December 26, 2013

For the holiday season, give the gift of warmth! This week on BetterWorldians Radio we’ll talk with two organizations that focus on providing the less fortunate with the things they need to stay warm through the winter. Our guests this week are Tom Costello, the founder of The Joy of Sox, and Carey Palmquist, the Executive Director of Operation Warm. Tom will discuss how he went from a “homeless phobia” to providing over 100,000 pairs of new socks for the homeless. Carey will tell us how, to date, Operation Warm has provided more than a million children with their first new coat to keep them warm. Tune in every week to hear new guests share how they are making the world a better place and to learn how you can become a BetterWorldian!

 

 

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Tom Costello
Founder, The Joy of Sox

Tom Costello is the Founder of The Joy of Sox, a Philadelphia-based organization that serves the needs for new socks for the homeless of the Philadelphia region. The Joy of Sox began when Costello found out that people rarely donated new socks to the homeless. Since 2010, The Joy of Sox has distributed more than 115,000 pairs of socks.

Carey Palmquist
Senior Vice President, First Book

Carey Palmquist is responsible for assisting First Book's leadership team execute on new ideas for growth strategy and innovation. Carey joined First Book after 4+ years as Executive Director of Operation Warm, a national non-profit providing brand new coats to low-income children. Prior to joining the non-profit sector, Carey served as Vice President of Operations for a state-of-the-art, multi-billion dollar cancer treatment company where she was responsible for all operational aspects of the company's flagship treatment center in Oklahoma City. She has also served in the capacity of human resources executive in the healthcare, technology, and financial industries. Carey serves on the board of The Institute for Global Youth Development Programs, holds a Master's of Management from Cambridge College and is a certified Six Sigma Green and Black Belt.

Episode Transcript

MarySue Hansell
Joining us first today is Tom Costello, the founder of the Joy of Sox. The Joy of Sox serves the needs for new socks for the homeless. Costello began his mission when he found out that people rarely donated new socks to the homeless. Since 2010, the Joy of Sox has distributed more than one hundred and fifteen pairs of socks. Thats a lot of socks.

Raymond Hansell
You bet it is. Tom?

Tom Costello
Hi guys.

Raymond Hansell
We appreciate you being on board. Welcome to the show.

Tom Costello
Oh, its my honor. Thank you so much.

Raymond Hansell
Oh, youre very welcome. Weve been we did some real good homework on your organization. Were very happy to have you on board for this. Your story is very interesting right from the very beginning. As I understand it, you were volunteering at a soup kitchen with your wife when you learned a new fact; people actually rarely donate new socks to homeless people, so

Tom Costello
That is true, Ray.

Raymond Hansell
Okay. How did that make you feel?

Tom Costello
It was really eye opening. I think people take socks for granted. So what I have learned in my little metamorphosis over the couple years let me ask you a question. Do you have a sock drawer at home?

Raymond Hansell
Yes, I do.

Tom Costello
Of course you do. Well the homeless dont, Ray. And to ask you a follow-up question, what do you do with your old clothes when they go out of style or wear out?

Raymond Hansell
Actually we do give the clothes and the clothing to a number of different groups.

Tom Costello
Exactly. But most people with their old socks, they throw them out because theyre thread-bare. So weve got a homeless fellow named Moose who says hell go to a distribution place and get jeans and jackets but he never gets socks so thats our niche.

Raymond Hansell
Alright. But now in serving that niche, you said something I think I saw it on your site that youre doing a lot of work with the homeless. You in fact, in the beginning, had a little, you know, you were a little funny about feeling about working with the homeless or dealing with the homeless.

Tom Costello
Ray, I would call that homeless phobia.

Raymond Hansell
Homeless phobia?

Tom Costello
Yeah. And like all phobias or most phobias, it is kind of irrational but I used to work in Philadelphia and if I walked down the street and I sensed somebody was homeless, I would start to get a little panic attack. Id have to turn around and cross on the other side. It was really strange.

Raymond Hansell
And yet you you felt moved to do something here. You decided to provide socks to the homeless. So once you decided to do something, how did you get started?

Tom Costello
Okay. So I have this homeless phobia and ironically, my wife was volunteering at a homeless shelter and said, you know what I want for Christmas? Whatever you want. She said, some down to the shelter. I said, well, Im not going to do that but if you met my wife, Ray, I lost that argument.

Raymond Hansell
Yeah.

Tom Costello
So I get down to the shelter and I was really nervous. I could hardly get out of the car, sweating, palpitations. It was scary, Ray.

Raymond Hansell
Sure.

Tom Costello
And she drags me into the bottom of this church in the German town section of Philadelphia and only homeless people and I am standing there. I can hardly swallow but somehow I make it through the afternoon and we get back in the car, I lock the door, and my heart my blood pressure comes down and were driving home and Nancy, my wife, said you know, I was talking to a podiatrist who said the homeless rarely get donations of socks. That kind of resonated with me Ray and that kind of got me started thinking about how I might be able to help these people by providing them socks.

Raymond Hansell
Okay. Thats a great story. Im familiar with the German town section of Philadelphia. Were broadcasting this all around the world. Its a tough section. I think one of the first groups that we ever helped way back when was actually a group around that same section in Philadelphia. And a little nun named Sister Mary Agnes who always used to sort of reach out to us and I need a computer, I need help organizing things, and we visited her one time. I remember that same feeling of going into this old church building in the basement, seeing stores of soap and basic things, and looking at this little lady that looked like a modern day Mother Teresa.

Tom Costello
Absolutely. Absolutely. There are a lot of them out there, Ray.

Raymond Hansell
And it was inspiring. It sort of cut me off from any emotional concern. Well speaking about your wife, I want to transfer over to talk to Greg who is part of our family team to ask some more questions, specifically about some of these homeless people.

Gregory Hansell
Hi, Tom. Its Greg.

Tom Costello
Hi, Greg.

Gregory Hansell
I did have one question. How long did it take you to get over that phobia?

Tom Costello
Oh, God. That event happened and then probably about a year or two later, I finally got up enough nerve and I went back to the shelter and Im still really scared but I got to this place or some place and bought a whole bunch of socks and I figured Ive got to try this. As Eleanor Roosevelt said, do something each day that scares you. Well, I was definitely out of my comfort range. So anyway, Greg, so Im in the back of the church. It was around Christmas holidays and I am passing out socks and the people are coming up close to me and I am dropping a pair of socks in a plastic bag and saying merry Christmas. God bless you. I survived that and I am doing okay now. And then Greg, a lady comes up to me, doesnt make any eye contact at all. I dropped the socks in her bag. Merry Christmas. She says nothing and shuffles away and I hear out of the corner of the room, could I please have another pair for a friend who couldnt be here? She walks back up to me, looks up at me, opens her eyes, makes eye contact, and she starts to cry. And she says no one has ever given me a pair of socks before.

Gregory Hansell
Thats amazing.

Tom Costello
And then I start to get all emotional and Greg, she reached out to hug me and I had never touched a homeless person before so I hugged her back.

Gregory Hansell
You hugged her back?

Tom Costello
I hugged her back and that was my epiphany moment and from that point on, no phobia. Ive got to help these people.

Gregory Hansell
So really that was kind of your magic moment where the kind of spell was broken and after that, you felt really called.

Tom Costello
Absolutely. Thats why I say its my epiphany moment because just in a matter of like that, poof, Im a new person. It was it was amazing.

Gregory Hansell
So was that moment also the beginning of the Joy of Sox?

Tom Costello
Yeah, because then I said if something as important as a pair of socks or something as basic as a pair of socks can bring so much joy and happiness to this person, theres got to be something more to this. So on the way home, I got all excited. I came up with the name the Joy of Sox. We started the whole process and here we are three years later.

Gregory Hansell
Wow. You said that was the first time you ever touched a homeless person but I am guessing youve got a lot of hugs since then so what is your reaction these days when somebody, when, you know, some of the homeless get to know you and they see you coming?

Tom Costello
Well, a lot of the homeless, Greg, are kind of transient so I really dont have a lot of homeless buddies that I know. But if we go down to this one place in North Philadelphia, you kind of see the same faces and they kind of smile and they always say, you know, bless you because nobody else gives us socks. Thats just a great warm feeling.

Gregory Hansell
Well its funny too because youre talking about the sock drawer at home and its also that thing during the holidays where socks is the gift that no one wants to get, right? Everyone says, oh, socks in the stocking and I didnt want that, but its

Tom Costello
Oh, yeah.

Gregory Hansell
People dont realize, you know, how badly people really do need socks.

Tom Costello
Yeah. We have a quote, Greg, from a the guys name is Kiwi. Lets see if I can get this pretty close. He says sometimes socks are more important than food because you can always get food on the street but you can rarely get socks.

Gregory Hansell
So should people be, you know, giving their thread bare socks to the homeless? I mean, what is your recommendation?

Tom Costello
No. No. The homeless rarely get donations of new anything.

Gregory Hansell
Yeah.

Tom Costello
I wouldnt want anybodys secondhand old socks so we only do new socks that we distribute to the homeless as a present of new stuff.

Gregory Hansell
So how has your life changed since you started this mission? How do you feel different?

Tom Costello
Wow. That would take a couple of weeks worth of radio shows. Maybe we should do a book on that or something, Greg.

Gregory Hansell
Lets take a shot.

Tom Costello
Okay. A complete metamorphosis.

Gregory Hansell
Really?

Tom Costello
I would never want to go into a city. I would never want to associate with the poor or the homeless because theyre different, theyre strange. But what I have learned in dealing with these guys, and they are primarily guys in shelters that we take care of, you know, they are a lot like you and me, Greg. Weve gotten into discussions about Disney World. Weve gotten into discussions about the bible versus the Koran. Were gotten into discussions about the Phillies, you know. You have a decent conversation and just like if you were to go to any cocktail party. Some people youre going to enjoy; some people youre not. Its a really interesting section of people out there, Greg.

Gregory Hansell
Wow. Were you called to a life of service before you sort of had this magic moment in your life or did this change your life in that direction as well?

Tom Costello
Well I was always charitable but, you know, nothing outgoing like this.

Gregory Hansell
You had

Tom Costello
Like I said no. No volunteer work. This was kind of it and I said oh my God. Ive got to do this.

Gregory Hansell
Wow. So I know that you have a big goal in mind right now to provide 1.2 million pairs of socks per year to the homeless. How are you doing that?

Tom Costello
Okay, well let me go back if you dont mind. We call it the 1.2 million happy and healthy toes initiative. Let me try this again. 1.2 million happy and healthy toes initiative and where that came from was there was about ten thousand homeless in Philly. Lets assume they all have ten toes and because the homeless walk around all of the time and go through socks a lot, they need at least one pair a month. If you do the math, that comes out to 1.2 million.

Gregory Hansell
Right, right.

Tom Costello
So our goal is to provide one new pair of socks for every homeless person in Philadelphia at least once a month.

Gregory Hansell
Wow, so

Tom Costello
Thats our campaign and thats what were doing.

Gregory Hansell
So one new pair of socks for every homeless person in Philadelphia every month.

Tom Costello
Yes.

Gregory Hansell
And how are you doing that?

Tom Costello
Every month, every year. Yeah, its been amazing, Greg. Weve got a couple of ways to get our socks. There are a lot of schools where the school children conduct a sock drive or their parents will go to, again, a K-Mart, Target, Walmart, Costco, whatever, and buy, you know, a six or twelve pack of socks and bring them into school. And we get tens of thousands of pairs of socks that way. Its really cool for a couple of reasons. One, that teachers get a chance to talk about homelessness issues to kids in, say, grades K through twelve. Its just been a great experience. As a matter of fact, last Friday I went to a local elementary school and talked to a bunch of daisy girl scouts. There were all age six and seven and they had collected a lot of socks. We talked to them. And also the same week, we got a huge check from a law firm in Philadelphia that conducts a casual Friday where you can wear jeans and if you do that, you make a donation and we were the recipient of some funds to help support us.

Gregory Hansell
Wow, thats great. Thats great. Congratulations.

Tom Costello
Thank you.

Gregory Hansell
You know, youre what are some of the big homelessness issues that are covered in the schools, then?

Tom Costello
Why are people homeless? What is a homeless person? And there are a lot of stereotypes out there about what a homeless person is as in theyre not educated or they are stupid. We did something in North Philadelphia, Greg, this was amazing. There was a we did something in conjunction with Jefferson Hospital with medical students with one of the clinics in North Philly and they let me sit in on an exam with a fellow. It was Mr. Webster.

Gregory Hansell
Yeah.

Tom Costello
And he has a paperback book and there is no cover on it. I said, you know, what are you reading Mr. Webster? This goes to people thinking homeless are uneducated. So he says I am revisiting Salingers Catcher in the Rye. I want to revisit how he develops the character of Holden Caulfield.

Gregory Hansell
Yeah.

Tom Costello
I go, wow. I wasnt an English major but obviously you were so we had a little discussion about that. So I always use that story as far as, oh theyre stupid or theyre whatever. Theyre not. Theyre just like you and me, just unfortunate for some reason or another.

Gregory Hansell
And are the kids receptive to the lessons do you find?

Tom Costello
Depending on the age. I wouldnt do that with, you know, K through three or four. But the high school kids really get that.

Gregory Hansell
And you see kind of their eyes open up and they start to kind of empathize with the homeless do you find?

Tom Costello
Oh, yeah. I play a game with them. I say give me the demographics you think of a typical homeless person and then I kind of I tell them the facts. Theyre like, oh, I never realized that. And hence we have our little lesson there.

Gregory Hansell
So I did want to ask you, is this your fulltime job, the Joy of Sox? Is this something that youve dedicated your whole life to?

Tom Costello
Again, this just started about three years ago, Greg. I also teach at Montgomery County Community College but the sock life is taking on a life of its own and I do this ninety-five percent of the time.

Gregory Hansell
What is your favorite memory in the last three years that you have had, the thing that really sticks out most in your mind as what has made it all?

Tom Costello
Talking to you on this radio program.

Raymond Hansell
There you go.

Gregory Hansell
Well thank you, but what else?

Tom Costello
Alright, heres one. Heres one. Heres one.

Gregory Hansell
Okay.

Tom Costello
Last Christmas we were driving down into Philadelphia. Ill tell this story second. We were at a shelter and a fellow comes in. Hes wearing a Phillies jacket and he is looking around, looks kind of nervous, doesnt make any eye contact with me. I try to make eye contact with him and go over and introduce myself, shake his hand. I never would have done that a couple of years ago. His name was Nate. So I always talk about the Phillies and Victorino was still working for the Phillies, playing for the Phillies, and Howard and stuff, and made that sort of conversation. And then he says, you know, excuse me, Im really hungry, and he got into the line to get something to eat. Before he left, Greg, he looked me in the eye and said you know what, I want to thank you for not looking through me today.

Gregory Hansell
Wow.

Tom Costello
You gave me dignity.

Gregory Hansell
So that is something

Tom Costello
The power of a hello, reaching out and talking to this fellow, maybe not a lot of un-homeless people talk to, you know?

Gregory Hansell
Yeah, sure. I was just going to say I think thats something that probably a lot of people, a lot of homeless people unfortunately experience, this idea of people looking through them and not seeing them.

Tom Costello
Oh, absolutely.

Gregory Hansell
Have you heard about that a lot?

Tom Costello
Oh, yeah. Like Im sitting on the corner, Im looking for some money, and everybody ignores me like Im not here you know.

Gregory Hansell
Wow. Is there let me ask you this, has there been a difficult story that maybe you want to share, something where it was hard for you to deal with but it is one of those moments, again, where you felt like this mission is so necessary?

Tom Costello
Thats a good one. No, not really. Everything has really been positive. Weve had no negative experiences other than not having enough donations and grants but no negative experiences in dealing with any of the homeless population at all.

Gregory Hansell
Thats incredible. Yeah, I dont even mean a negative experience with them but just something that so touched your heart. I mean, it just seemed like such a shame to you that you said, Im glad Im doing what Im doing, or does that happen every day?

Tom Costello
Oh, that happens all the time. It happens all the time.

Gregory Hansell
Any one that sticks out in your mind particularly?

Tom Costello
Yeah, okay. We were doing something with some Temple podiatry students last summer this summer, and they take the sock off of this foot and using the word disgusting would be kind. Its infected and sick and really, really bad, primarily because he didnt have socks and the foot rubbed and created a blister situation that got infected. It was yucky. And Im thinking, oh, the socks are going to help him stay healthy and the socks are also going to probably minimize the amount of visits he has to do to the health emergency rooms or visits from the street clinics which hopefully would have a positive impact on the healthcare system because the less they go, the less you and I are kind of underwriting that.

Gregory Hansell
Sure. So let me ask, what does your wife think about this big life change that you had?

Tom Costello
She really cant believe it.

Gregory Hansell
She cant believe it? Is that a figure of ?

Tom Costello
You dragged me into this and now Im the one whos, you know, spearheading this whole thing.

Gregory Hansell
Sure. And is she involved with the organization?

Tom Costello
She is on the board, yes.

Gregory Hansell
She is on the board? Thats great. And she feels good, I imagine, about forcing you to go down to the shelter that night?

Tom Costello
Oh absolutely. Absolutely.

Gregory Hansell
So let me ask you, what have you learned about people do you think generally since you started this mission?

Tom Costello
Okay. So I learned mostly about myself if we could just talk about that for a second. I realized that there was a lot more to me than this phobia of the homeless. I found a quote. I refer to it once in a while. It says if you see something that needs to be done, think you can do it? Well, do it.

Gregory Hansell
Yeah.

Tom Costello
So this kind of, whatever reason fell in my lap here, and what I have learned is that I can go out of my normal being and approach another human being and have a conversation and hopefully come away and make them feel a little bit better and learn something about them. Ive also learned that Ive taken some volunteers and some board members down to meet some homeless people and they were afraid of it, Greg.

Gregory Hansell
Yeah.

Tom Costello
And we had a good experience and homeless people say, hey, thanks for coming down and talking to us. You know, we love the socks. Bless you. And then were riding home in the car and theyll say oh my God. What a moving experience. I never realized that they were people just like us. Well, they are, Greg, you know.

Gregory Hansell
Yeah. Thats amazing and it really seems like that moment of facing your fear is what turned your life around. Would you want to tell the people at home, you know, that if you want to have that kind of transformational moment, to face their fears in that same way?

Tom Costello
Oh yeah. Its amazing. And this isnt for everybody. You know, we have a lot of volunteers. Do you want to go down to the shelter? No, Im afraid. Thats okay. If at some point you want to go down, you know, Ill come down and figuratively hold your hand and walk you through the process and meet somebody. But some people, this is too much, Greg, and thats okay. We take each day at a time.

Gregory Hansell
What do you tell people that are kind of hesitant about getting involved with helping the homeless? You know, they want to, they are well intentioned. You know, what do you do for them? What do you tell them?

Tom Costello
Write us a check.

Gregory Hansell
Perfect.

Tom Costello
Again, we have a lot of people. If I tell my story at a Chamber of Commerce meeting, Ill get five or six people, how can we help? Can we help? And a lot of them will give us volunteer hours, help us with the distribution, but really dont want to go face the people and thats okay. You know, they can help us financially or with donating hours and if you want to go down and help out at the clinic, we can do that. But again, that is a gradual process.

Gregory Hansell
Sure.

Tom Costello
I dont force that on anybody. People do what they can do.

Gregory Hansell
Yeah. Yeah, I think thats great. I imagine you get a lot of support around the holidays, you know, with your mission, but what are your needs in the New Year?

Tom Costello
Okay. If youre a homeless person, Greg, you just dont need socks between Thanksgiving and New Years. You need them year round.

Gregory Hansell
Sure.

Tom Costello
And since youre walking five or six miles a day through all sorts of weather, they wear out, as I said, about once a month. So you need about twelve pairs of socks a year. So what we find is that the cupboard so to speak gets stocked around January first and then it starts to deplete through the rest of the year. So what we have been fortunate enough to have in Pennsylvania, the Senate passed a resolution called National Socks for the Homeless Day. And its Valentines Day and we do a big marketing thing and its in the middle of winter in most of the United States and in addition to sending your mom a card or calling a loved one, remember the homeless and make a donation to us or to a homeless shelter with some socks. So we have that going on and then we have other programs planned throughout the year. We try like you said, to get the people out of the mindset of only be generous between the holidays and the end of the year. Does that make sense?

Gregory Hansell
Yeah. It does make perfect sense. Thank you and I think people really need to know that you do need their help and their assistance, you know, throughout the entire year. How can they help with your mission?

Tom Costello
Okay, a whole bunch of stuff. We need volunteers. We need volunteers to run sock drives in schools and there is all sorts of information on the website. We can do that or give us a call or send us an email. We need volunteers to help us with office work, distribute the socks, clerical work, stuff like that. Always looking for a few good interns from local colleges. Financial support is major. As you know, every non-profit needs financial support. Were looking for good board members who are committed to our cause and corporate sponsors who want to support what we do.

Gregory Hansell
What is your website again?

Tom Costello
Oh, its www dot the joy of sox S, O, X, the joy of sox dot org.

Gregory Hansell
And finally, my last question is if there is just one thing that you want to tell people listening not just about your mission but about the homeless and dealing with the homeless and their plight, what would you want to say?

Tom Costello
Well, thats a good one. Im going to make it broader than the homeless because maybe people out there listening, homelessness isnt one of their causes. But I would ask everybody, think of something that is important to them. If its the Joy of Sox, thats great, but if its any one of any of the other things out there, theres always somebody out there who needs your help. And if you could help them with your time, your talents, or your treasure, I think the whole world is going to be a better place.

Raymond Hansell
Tom, that is a very, very inspiring story. I just want to mention to the listeners, this is Ray again, that I just attended a symposium on homeless issues in Philadelphia at the Philadelphia Foundation and we went around the room with some organizations, some of them very large, some of them very nimble and very small and lean, and I asked the question. Were about to do a broadcast on the Joy of Sox and Operation Warm. How do these organizations fit into what you do with the homeless? And they didnt have any idea what you did. So I think its really important that we get the word out. This is a big, big thing. People need socks. Its a basic need. They need a dozen pair or more a year just to get through that and so were so happy that you were able to tell this great story. We thank you for joining us.

Tom Costello
Ray, Greg, MarySue, thank you so much. Like you said in the beginning, you want to help make the world a better place with small acts and hopefully our small acts are helping make the world a better place.

Gregory Hansell
Thank you so much, Tom.

MarySue Hansell
Yes, yes, they are.

Raymond Hansell
Thank you very much, Tom. They are. Thank you very much. We need to take a break right now. Id like to offer this challenge to our listeners. If you know someone whose small acts just like this one were talking about today that has been making a big difference, please let us know. Tweet us at hashtag tweet us at hashtag Better Worldians or let us know at the Better Worldian community. When we come back, well be joined by Carey Palmquist, the executive director of Operation Warm. You can learn more at Better Worldians dot com and follow our live tweets at Twitter dot com slash Better Worldians. Well be right back now.

Raymond Hansell
Hi. Were back with a special episode of Better Worldians Radio, giving back for the holidays and beyond. Joining us in the segment is Carey Palmquist, executive director of Operation Warm. Operation Warm and Coats for Kids Foundation inspires hope and empowers communities by providing new winter coats to children in need throughout the US. Since 1998, Operation Warm has provided the gift of warmth to more than 1.2 million children. Carey, thanks for joining us today. Youre doing such great work. We really appreciate you joining us on the show.

Carey Palmquist
Thanks for having me.

Raymond Hansell
Youre very welcome. I understand that the organization began in 98 by giving away just fifty-eight coats and that Operation Warm has just exploded since then. So can you tell us a little bit about the history of the operation?

Carey Palmquist
Sure. Absolutely. Operation Warm did start almost by accident back in 1998 when our founder, Dick Sanford who was a retired business man, actually saw some kids freezing at a bus stop in his own neighborhood out in Chester County, Pennsylvania and couldnt believe what he saw. So he went out and purchased the remaining inventory of coats in a local department store and then worked through his church and rotary to find who those kids were and distributed coats back in 98 between Christmas and New Years and was really so very blown away by the impact that those coats had on not only the children but their families. He thought, wow, you know, so much for retirement. Im going to dedicate my life to doing this good work for kids in need. And it really started in Chester County and now were in forty-two states across the country.

Raymond Hansell
Oh my gosh. Thats amazing. Now you give out new coats, only new coats. Why is that?

Carey Palmquist
We do. You know, its a very unique spin to the typical coat drive situation and the reason we do that is that we believe that children, regardless of socioeconomic status, deserve something brand new and I can tell you from first-hand experience that the joy on a childs face upon receiving a brand new gift from Operation Warm, the gift of warmth, is priceless. Its something I think the children dont expect. There are wonderful organizations across the country that do coat drives and, you know, distribute gently worn coats and thats also wonderful. But our mission is really to provide a brand new coat because it really boosts the childs self-esteem and overall well-being for them to know that they are special enough to receive something brand new.

Raymond Hansell
And you actually manufacture the coats. Is that correct?

Carey Palmquist
Well, they are manufactured for us. That is correct. They are custom made for us. The only each year, they are designed with current styles and colors. The only way youd ever know it was an Operation Warm coat is because there is an Operation Warm label in the neck but the coats are made very specifically for our program. They have a label on the inside lapel that says made especially for you and one of the things that we try to do with every coat distribution is, you know, take a sharpie pen and write the childs name on the inside of the coat because until we do that, it is kind of unfathomable for those kids to even realize that that coat is theirs to keep. At so many coat distributions I have been to, when I help put a coat on a child, the coat the child will say nine times out of ten, when do I have to give this coat back? So writing their name on the inside of the coat and having them spell it for you really sort of hits home that they dont have to give it back, that it is theirs to keep. The sad reality for so many of the children that we serve is that, you know, they wear their coats to bed at night because there isnt enough heat in the house or enough blankets and so the coat really becomes sort of an extension of them for winter and it is truly a special gift.

MarySue Hansell
Oh boy. That is a sad story. Hi, Carey. Its MarySue.

Carey Palmquist
How are you, MarySue?

MarySue Hansell
Good. I was just thinking, as an executive director, you must have witnessed quite a few children receiving these new coats. How do they react? You mentioned a little bit that theyre happy but can you give us any more details about how they feel and what happens when they get the new coat?

Carey Palmquist
Its really incredible. Its very special. You know, other than the sheer joy that you see on their faces, I think, you know, were first met when you hand them their coat when we hand them their coat, were first met with big eyes like sort of the deer in the headlights like what are you talking about this coat is for me? And then when you zip them into it and their name is in it, you cant get the coat off of them. I mean, they like to put up the hood. They like to zip up the jacket and they sort of, you know, almost cocoon into the coat. I think theyre just so afraid someone is going to take it away from them. Its really extraordinary and one of the ways we really encourage people to get involved is to come to a coat distribution and see because I think when you hear about children receiving the gift of warmth, a brand new coat, its I think its kind of hard to grasp. You know, we take it for granted. I know that I personally have probably about five coats in my closet that I select from in the morning and I I just do and I, you know, its so unfathomable for people to maybe even conceptualize the fact that there are kids who dont have any coats. And children, you know, its so cold right now where we are and there are so many children who are trying to get to school without the benefit of a coat. And, you know, that is a whole other topic and something that we sort of have extended our mission into. It is so critically important for kids to get to school and parents are keeping kids home if they dont have adequate winter attire. And so the Operation Warm coat is really helping provide, you know, sort of on the side, an education for kids because with the coats, they are actually going to school. They can wait at the bus stop. They can walk to school or whatever it is they need to do.

MarySue Hansell
Well that is really interesting. So youre saying that well I was curious that why dont they have coats? Are they homeless children? Are they children in poverty? What is the situation?

Carey Palmquist
Well MarySue, the situation varies. Many of the children, we do about two hundred thousand children a winter. Many of those children are in fact homeless. The homeless rate continues to rise unfortunately. But aside from that, you know, when a family the working poor or impoverished families, when they have such limited resources and theyre trying to figure out which basic needs they can meet, I think, you know, food and heat probably come before clothing. And so so many kids are trying to get to school without coats because mom had to make a choice. Am I going to put food on the table, am I going to buy a coat? Am I going to pay the heat? So the choices, they are abysmal. So the kids, you know, the last thing on the list is probably a new winter coat.

MarySue Hansell
Yes, I remember. I was just telling someone today the first time I heard your announcement. I guess it was a few years back. I was in my kitchen eating breakfast, nice and warm and snuggly and it was very cold out that day and you mentioned how sad it was that these children dont have coats waiting at a school bus stop. I was just appalled. Its hard to believe. So I am so glad that the operation is taking off so nicely. Anyway

Carey Palmquist
Sorry. Go ahead.

MarySue Hansell
Yeah. You were saying that giving these little kids new coats isnt just about keeping them warm but it boosts their self-esteem. Can you shed a little more light on that?

Carey Palmquist
Yeah. I think over the years as we have experienced the coat distribution, you know, children who it is a fact that children who live in poverty have low self-esteem. They dont have the things that other children have and just by the nature of peer pressure, etc., many children who are impoverished feel sort of like a social outcast. And so one of the reasons that we are so careful to make sure that we redesign our coats and colors and styles each year is because we want the kids we dont want any child to feel left out. We want every child to feel like they are part of the mainstream and so, you know, the self-esteem comes with, okay. I look like my friends now. Im not the kid who is standing in the school yard in a hoodie. I actually have a warm coat and I can play with my friends. So the self-esteem comes with just peer acceptance and part of peer acceptance is, unfortunately or fortunately depending on how you look at it, having things that your peers have. And so the Operation Warm coats are, again, very specifically designed so that they are very current. We make them in a variety of styles and colors each year so that if, for example, a school is receiving a whole bunch of our coats and Ill talk in a moment about how we qualify kids for this program, but we make sure that theres a variety so theres isnt, oh, that kid got the coat from Operation Warm. You really cant tell because our coats are beautifully made and they look like something that you would buy at, you know, Nordstrom or someplace like that. They really are lovely coats.

MarySue Hansell
Thats great. Thats great. I was wondering if they were in different colors and styles and things that were, you know, up to date.

Carey Palmquist
They are, you know, and the really cool thing I think about Operation Warm, there is a lot of cool things about the program but one of the things I really like the best and one of the reasons our program, I think, appeals to so many folks is because when we there is no waste in our program. Excuse me. So if a school is designated as a beneficiary or a class within a school is designated as a beneficiary class, you know, the school can order precisely what the children need. So we have a sizing chart and we send it off to the school and the organization that is going to distribute the coats and each child is measured so that when they order, they are ordering exactly what they need. So there is no waste which is really a great thing. And so what does Operation Warm do other than provide coats? Well, we warehouse the product until it is needed. We ship just on time to the organizations that are going to receive the coats. And then when they receive their shipment, the shipment is exactly what they need. So from a funders perspective, a grantor, they like the program because there isnt any waste. We ship exactly what is needed for the children that are going to receive the coats.

MarySue Hansell
That sounds wonderful. Now I imagine these coats are in high demand. Do you ever are there ever do you ever run out of the coats and there are people calling you and saying that we need more coats?

Carey Palmquist
We we yes. We absolutely do run out of coats, especially at around this time, you know, Christmas time. This week is probably our busiest week of the year. I think when the weather, you know, were a twelve months out of the year operation and were trying to raise money all year to provide the coats that we provide each winter. And I think its difficult because a lot of people dont naturally dont think about the warmth of a coat until sort of back to school time is when we start getting people interested in saying, hey, how can I get coats for my students or how can I get coats for my shelter or how can I help provide money for coats? So we do at this time of year begin to run out of coats but what is really important for people to understand is that our coats cost money. They are brand new and so our organization raises the funding required to provide the coats and so if we send out a grant request in say the Pittsburgh area and we receive the grant, the coats go to Pittsburgh. If we send out a grant in Oklahoma City, the coats go to Oklahoma City. So we are very careful to match the funding that we receive with the community where the funding was received from and that way people can tangibly see the impact of their gift. So we get lots of calls this time of year from organizations begging for coats. While we may have some inventory leftover, we will almost always wait and hold out until we are able to find funding to pay for those coats because it is just critically important. We wouldnt have been in business for fifteen years without having the funding that we need to cover the coats. So we have an extraordinarily generous group of constituents who provide funding for us, corporations, small businesses, individuals, people who have for some reason or another found passion in the work that we do and were very blessed with their ongoing generosity. But its you know, its a struggle each year. We would love to grow the program more and more each year because the need is now close to seventeen million children in our country who are living below poverty and that number is staggering. Wed love to be able to be out of business one day because there isnt a need but the reality is there are close to seventeen million children who could probably use a coat from operation warm.

MarySue Hansell
You know, thats an interesting point. I was thinking how long does it take to manufacture a coat? Say that if you had a shortage in an area and you got a big donation, how long does it take to, you know, to get it out to them?

Carey Palmquist
It really depends. It depends on what our manufacturer is in the process of doing but we are pretty sure that if we had to place an order now to be delivered in February, we probably wouldnt get it. So our business cycle is that we place our order every January so we are about to place our order now for the 2014 coat distribution season which will begin in September 2014 and run through February 2015. So its a long lead time because there are, you know, so many coats being manufactured for different retailers that we are fit in. Fortunately were large enough now that we do actually take some precedence. Two hundred thousand coat orders is a lot of coats and so were able to sort of say when we want them delivered to us but were pretty much locked into ordering in January each year for the following winter.

MarySue Hansell
I see. How about the cost? How much do these coats cost?

Carey Palmquist
The coats cost approximately twenty dollars apiece for, you know, for a funder. So that includes the very minor overhead expenses of Operation Warm. We have a staff of thirteen so ninety-six cents on every dollar that is donated to us goes directly to program costs which means they go directly to the coats and then four cents on every dollar is used to cover overhead expenses, shipping, warehousing, that sort of thing. So we run a very lean operation. Thirteen people and two hundred thousand coats a year; were working very hard to keep that ratio.

MarySue Hansell
Thats great. Now youre saying you still do need coats after the holidays?

Carey Palmquist
Yes. We do find that were distributing inventory through usually through February.

MarySue Hansell
Through February? Okay. What is the best way for people to give to Operation Warm? I mean, this is a happy holiday season for everyone and we just want it to be happy for these little children without their coats. What is the best way for ?

Carey Palmquist
The best way is to go to our website which is Operation Warm dot org and youll see all over that page, as you can imagine, a big red donate button, and we appreciate any donations of course from anyone in any denomination. Every penny helps and what people need to understand is that twenty dollars literally changes the life of one child. So, you know, a couple of people giving five dollars really adds up. One person giving twenty, one person giving sixty. I mean, each dollar is impacting a child. So first and foremost, go to Operation Warm dot org. We also have a text to donate option if people are listening and they have a cell phone. They can text the word warm, W, A, R, M, to 50555 and that is a ten dollar maximum because it is a text to donate, you know, an E-give program. So that is a ten dollar maximum but there are lots of ways to do it and if there is a community that is specifically interested in raising money, for example for a title one school. A title one school is a school where forty percent or more of the children enrolled in that school are on the federal free and reduced lunch program. They could actually contact us and setup a very specific fundraising page for their community, direct people to that URL which is, again, customized for that program. And lets say there was a school in a community and there were three hundred children that needed coats. A community could rally around that, use that fundraising custom fundraising page to get to their goal and then we can ship coats to the school and the community can help distribute them. I mean, its a very personalized program which is part of the beauty of it.

MarySue Hansell
That sounds wonderful. You know, are there ways that people can get involved if they dont have money to give but they really love the cause and they want to do something?

Carey Palmquist
I think yes. I think theres always something to be done. I think one of the greatest things, you know, if you dont have money personally to give but you know that there is a need in your community and you want to help, is rally people around a goal, you know. Say hey, I am going to organize a fundraiser. I am going to, you know, organize a bake sale, a car wash in the summer. Again, we would love to get people involved in the summer ahead of when we really need to get the money in for the coats. So I think there are literally children there are young children all of the way across the country who are helping to raise money for other children through this program and these kids dont have money but, you know, they are making jewelry and selling them at the school or at their church. My church just did an ornament program where the children in my church made Christmas ornaments. They sold them last Sunday and they raised two hundred dollars for Operation Warm in one Sunday. So there is really tons and tons of creative stuff kids can do, adults can do. And I think once you have identified a beneficiary organization in your own community, it brings it home for people and they are much more willing to help and be able to say, you know, I helped put three hundred coats on kids in that elementary school over there and I feel really good about that. So theres lots of creative ways to help. We have employee giving campaigns that happen across the country so if there is, you know, holiday time if there is a corporation that wants to do something with employees, they can do a match program. Say, for every dollar that is donated to Operation Warm, our company will match it and well get well adopt a school or a shelter to give the coats to. So there are lots of different ways. We love talking to people on the phone about different ways they can help with money or without money. There is just such a huge need.

MarySue Hansell
Well I think that really motivates our listeners. I wanted to ask what is your personal favorite memory of a child receiving a coat.

Carey Palmquist
Gosh, there are so many incredible moments this time of year. I think I think the most incredible memory I have is honestly, its not the child. It was a mother who had six children and we were in Chester, Pennsylvania and the mother received six coats and was apologizing profusely for her need for coats. She said I have a college degree. I actually have a masters degree. My husband has recently died and I am really struggling and I dont have enough to feed my kids and I have lost my job. And she took six coats that she was given by Operation Warm. She literally left the coat distribution event and came back with a thank you card and the message in the card was simply, you know, this could be anybody and I am just so grateful that this program exists to help my kids. So I think the reality of todays economy is that were all, you know, just so far away or not far away at all from needing help and the beauty of this program, again, is that, you know, anyone anyone can benefit from it if the need is there and certainly anyone can help contribute to it. So its kind of a cool circle of giving, I think it is. But that was sort of one of the more poignant moments for me when I thought, gosh. Here is this woman who has done everything right as son many people in this country do. They work hard and they just cant quite get it all to work out in the end. There are wonderful programs out there that are helping and I hope Operation Warm is one of them.

Raymond Hansell
Carey, that is fantastic. You do such wonderful work. We would like to thank you for joining us today on Better Worldians Radio. It has been a real pleasure to learn about all of the good work that Operation Warm is doing for kids in need.

Carey Palmquist
Thank you.

Raymond Hansell
Youre very welcome. We need to take a short break right now. When we come back, well tell you more about some of the wonderful things happening with the Better Worldians movement. Well be right back.

Raymond Hansell
Hi. This is Ray Hansell and youre listening to Better Worldians Radio. Wed like to take this opportunity to tell you about all of the exciting activity this past year in our Facebook game, A Better World. This year there have been nearly one hundred and fifty thousand expressions of gratitude posted in our virtual world, more than two hundred and fifty thousand get well wishes have been sent, more than three hundred and fifty thousand kind messages shared, over half of a million good deeds done, and over 1.3 million hearts of love and friendship sent as well as many, many other altruistic actions in the game for a total of over seven million acts of kindness completed this year in a better world. This is amazing. We thank our participants and our players in A Better World and the social world that we occupy and we encourage them to do more and more of this activity. Please join us next week for our show, the Art of the Fresh Start, with motivational speaker Glenna Salsbury. Well be talking about New Years resolutions, how to make them and how to keep them. By the way, we have an excellent lineup of guests in the coming weeks and if you know an unsung Better Worldian who would make a great guest on our show, you can send us an email at radio at Better Worldians dot com. Wed like to remind you once again that all of you can be part of a miracle this holiday season. Simple share our video challenge and help heal ten disabled children. Its that easy. Just go to Color with Kindness dot com. Please watch the video. Please share it with your friends and give these kids the gift of a lifetime. From all of us here at Better Worldians Radio, wed like to wish you and all of your family and all of yours a merry Christmas and a happy holiday season. Wed also like to thank everyone today for listening. You can join the Better Worldian community at Better Worldians dot com and until next time and in this case, until next year, all of you, please be a better worldian.