KENNETT SQUARE—President Donald Trump’s trade war against China may force a local non-profit organization that provides free coats to the neediest children to move its operation to another country.

Dick Sanford, founder and chairman of Operation Warm, an organization that gave away 425,000 coats last year alone, said the trade war may force the organization to move out of China, where it makes and distributes all of its coats.

Trump greatly escalated his trade war against China recently by levying tariffs on Chinese goods worth $200 billion, prompting China to return fire with tariffs on $60 billion of American goods. The latest round of U.S. tariffs is a 10 percent levy on $200 billion worth of Chinese goods, which may rise to 25 percent. That’s on top of the $50 billion worth of tariffs on Chinese goods that went into effect in August.

“Because of the tariff issues, we are looking at moving to Vietnam or Myanmar,” Sanford said Thursday at a meeting of the Longwood Rotary Club, where he formed Operation Warm 20 years ago. “We just can’t be controlled by a country.”

Sanford said moving operations is a real possibility.

“Hopefully we won’t get hit with a 25 percent tariff coming up, and I hope it doesn’t happen, but if it does, we will move.”

Sanford said coats cannot be manufactured in the United States because the cost is three times greater. Thus, he said, hundreds of thousands of children can stay warm with free coats by keeping manufacturing costs at the lowest level.

“We tried manufacturing in the United States,” Sanford said. “Our mission is not to employ people in the United States, but to help children. That’s what we do. That’s our focus and we’re exceptionally proficient at it.”

Operation Warm began when Sanford saw kids in Kennett sitting on the side of the road with no coats on in the dead of winter, and bought 58 coats at the former Sheldon’s Department Store in Kennett Square. The organization he formed 20 years ago is about to give away its three millionth coat.

“We go into these places and see the kids happy, but the parents crying,” Sanford said. “In some cases, it's the first new clothing they have gotten. Coats become something that hopefully can bring them some kind of success in their lives.”

Operation Warm gives away coats to children in pre-school through sixth grade living in poverty. Locally, many of the students are identified through organizations such as LaComunid Hispana, Family Promise of Southern Chester County or the Garage Youth Center in Kennett and West Grove.

Even though 55 percent of people in Chester County have annual household incomes of $100,000 or more, 17 percent have household incomes of $35,000 or less, according to 2017 statistics from the U.S. Census Bureau. Three percent of Chester County households bring home less than $15,000, and 4 percent of Chester County residents live in poverty as defined by the Census Bureau. In the U.S. alone, more than 14 million children live in poverty.

Sanford said coats bring more than warmth to at-risk children. He said the coats also bring them much-needed self-esteem. And keeping the well-oiled machine going in China is vital to ensuring that as many children as possible receive coats they so desperately need.

Operation Warm has grown to have 600 partner organizations, including Morgan-Stanley, FedEx, Hollister, Horizon and many more. It serves 1,200 communities and only has 25 people in its organization, with a 95 percent efficiency rate, meaning that 95 percent of all donations received go directly into manufacturing and distributing the coats. Operation Warm works closely with more than 250 Rotary clubs.

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