Operation Warm Hearts

Operation Warm Hearts founders Ann Marie Sitter-Tompkins (from left), Claudia Attard-Keary and Pam Shumway display new coats, jackets and other winter items collected by the nonprofit organization to help needy children in the area. The first distribution of coats will be Jan. 22 and 23 in Olean, and a fundraiser is also underway.

OLEAN — After the founders of “Jackie’s Jackets” & “Mary’s Mittens” gave away 300 coats and jackets to children in the area Nov. 1, they were astounded by the continuous calls for more coats.

As a result, founders Claudia Attard-Keary, Ann Marie Sitter-Tompkins and Pam Shumway created a new nonprofit organization called “Operation Warm Hearts, Inc.,” which is now gathering jackets, coats and funds to operate the project year-round at its newly acquired headquarters on Wayne Street.

The next distribution of the coats and other outerwear will be held from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. next Friday and Saturday at 318 Wayne St. Attard-Keary said families interested in receiving the free items must call and order sizes for a reserved pick-up time at 560-8811. Those interested are advised to call this coming week. Participants are asked to drive on Coleman Street and turn left onto VanCampen Avenue, which takes cars to the side of the distribution building and lets them out on Wayne Street.

Attard-Keary emphasized that all recipients must make an appointment with assigned numbers for the pick-up event due to COVID-19 concerns. When recipients pull up in cars, volunteers will go inside and grab the already prepared coats and accessories, and will then hand them through the car window. All recipients need to wear masks.

Attard-Keary said she, Sitter-Tompkins and Shumway, with the help of their husbands, teamed up to create the nonprofit, as well as find a building to collect, store and distribute new jackets, coats and other winter items.

Attard-Keary said she and the other co-founders were inspired to create the new organization after last November’s coat give-away had to turn children away.

“It was very disappointing, it was only one hour and a half into our three-hour event that the coats were all gone,” Attard-Keary recalled. “The weeks after that we had all these different agencies or schools calling us asking for coats, socks and underwear. They’d say the kids were coming to school with just nothing.”

The women decided they had to do something to help address this need. With that they began buying coats, snowsuits and other items that were on sale with their own money and delivered them to schools and agencies.

“Ann Marie had just retired so she was free and we had already started gathering new inventory,” she continued. “So she was running all over the county delivering coats and underwear and socks.”

Since that time, the trio have also have organized their first fundraiser, and are set up to take donations through PayPal and have a bank account at Hamlin Bank.

“The public has been donating without us even advertising,” Attard-Keary continued. “People have donated homemade hats, and one lady gave us scarves and mittens — it’s so nice to see the community wants to help.”

She said the fundraiser, The Valentine’s Day Dine-A-Palooza, is selling raffle tickets for $25 each or three for $50. The grand prize is valued over $1,100 and includes dinner and overnight stay at The Old Library Bed & Breakfast; diamond earrings from Kay’s Jewelers; a bouquet of flowers from Mandy’s; baklava by Ann Marie’s Homemade Baklava; $100 gift certificate for Nails by Lisa Maine; and over 30 gift cards for local restaurants. The runner-up prize is valued over $400 and includes a variety of prizes; and the third prize is valued over $300, and includes a variety of prizes.

Attard-Keary said the prizes are the result of the generous donations of gift cards from businesses and restaurants throughout Olean and Allegany. For more information on ordering raffle tickets, visit Operation Warm Hearts on Facebook.

(Contact reporter Kate Day Sager at kates_th@yahoo.com. Follow her on Twitter, @OTHKate)

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