Can it be time to think about winter? Already? Autumn has just arrived. No need to rush the seasons. But that’s not what Dick Campbell thinks. His mind is already fixed on frigid mornings, icy winds, and snow-filled streets. That’s because Dick is the coordinator along the Connecticut shoreline and Connecticut River valley for Warm the Children, an organization that provides youngsters with warm winter clothes. Dick’s territory encompasses Essex, Chester, Deep River, Killingworth, Old Saybrook, Westbrook, Clinton, Lyme, and Old Lyme.
Warm the Children gets the names of families with youngsters in need of snow jackets, boots, mittens, and all the gear that’s a part of winter dressing from the social service directors in each town. Then a volunteer from Warm the Children contacts the designated family and sets up a time to meet at Walmart, which the local organization uses for shopping.
For youngsters between the ages of 4 and 18, the local branch of Warm the Children allocates $80 for shopping. For children under four, the figure is $40. The volunteer shopper accompanies the family to Walmart to pick appropriate items.
“It is very exciting, very rewarding to see the kids pick the jacket they want, the color they want, the right size instead of a hand-me-down. For some, it is the first time they have ever had a new jacket of their own,” Dick says.
According to Lynn Fairfield-Sonn, director of development and community relations for the Child & Family Agency (CFA), which administers this area’s funds for Warm the Children, last year the organization helped 216 families in the valley-shore area, providing warm winter clothing for 443 children. CFA has facilities in Essex, New London, and Groton. Essex resident Beebe Miller, a CFA auxiliary member, will be working with Dick on the program.
Mack Stewart, a former newspaperman who lives in Higganum, started warm the children in l988 when he was publisher of the Torrington Register-Citizen. He had driven by a bus stop and seen youngsters shivering as they waited for the school bus and thought the paper could sponsor a clothing drive. He called the drive Warm the Children. In l991, when he was editor and publisher of the Middletown Press, he once again used the newspaper as vehicle to raise funds for warm winter clothes for youngsters. Two years later, in l993, now retired, Stewart had the time to expand the Warm the Children program to other newspapers. Now, the group has 29 programs in 11 states.
Fundraising has reflected Stewart’s longtime associating with the publishing business. Newspaper run advertisements for Warm the Children as a public service and the resulting donations have been the organizations major source of funds. Warm the Children takes no money at all from donations for overhead or administrative fees.
“It’s a good thing for everybody. Newspaper readers like the idea that the paper is doing things for the community, not just to make money,” Stewart says. (The Courier/Zip06.com has regularly run public service advertisements for Warm the Children.)
Still, as the internet changes the way people get their news, Fairfield-Sonn added that CFA and Warm the Children would be exploring with Dick ways to raise money online as well as through traditional news sources.
“They are both wonderful guys, Dick Campbell and Mack Stewart,” says Fairfield-Sonn.
Dick got involved in Warm the Children through Stewart, one of his regular golf partners. Some six or seven years ago, Stewart mentioned that the Warm the Children coordinator for the valley-shore area was leaving and he needed somebody to step in.
“I just thought I’d help,” Dick says.
He is still helping and he is still playing golf, though he readily points out the problems with his game.
“I can’t keep my head down, and I can’t stay back,” he says. “But it’s nice to be out in the good weather. If the weather isn’t good, we don’t play.”
Dick makes all the arrangements for the purchase orders to Walmart and assigns volunteer shoppers to accompany Warm the Children beneficiaries to the store. He makes sure the shopper doesn’t come from the same town as the recipient to minimize any sensitivity that recognition in other activities might create. He sends all shoppers an introductory packet so they will know what the job entails.
“No party dresses, no toys, no box of chocolates, [just] warm winter clothes,” says Dick, who is also a shopper himself.
In addition to his work with Warm the Children, Dick is also a active member of the Lions Club in Old Saybrook where he lives, involved both in the local telephone directory the group publishes annually and in its vision screening programs. He notes that the Lions will do a vision screening at Goodwin School in Old Saybrook on Tuesday, Oct. 24.
At least three afternoons a week he is in Deep River, picking up his granddaughter from elementary school. He says his grandchildren occasionally tease him about the Boston accent that decades of living in Connecticut have not erased.
“They ask me to say ‘popcorn.’ I do and I can’t understand what’s wrong with the way I say it,” he admits.
Dick, who is now retired, spent his professional life as an engineer, for the last decades focusing on compliance with safety regulations. Now, however, his interest is in community service.
“It’s what the Lions do. It’s what Warm the Children does,” he says. It gives you a very rewarding feeling to be involved in these things.”
To learn more about Warm the Children, visit warmthechildren.org. Checks made out to Warm the Children may be sent to: P.O. Box 603, Essex, CT 06426.