12/23/2013 09:28 pm ET Updated Feb 22, 2014

How One Warm Coat Can Help Many

Next time you head out of your home, take a moment to pause as you bundle up and put on your warm coat, tie a scarf around our neck, or slip gloves onto your hands. For those who have warm clothing items such as these readily accessible, it is easy to take for granted the importance that these pieces play in our overall health and well-being. For many people, the gift of warmth is something that is a luxury even though it is in reality a necessity for those who cannot afford them.

I recently had the opportunity to talk with Jennifer Stockard, president and CEO of One Warm Coat to learn more about the work of her team to help those in need. One Warm Coat is a national nonprofit organization, and its mission is to collect coats and distribute them to people in need -- free of charge. The organization helps individuals, groups, companies, and organizations across the country collect coats and deliver them to local agencies that distribute them in their local communities. One Warm Coat's goal is to ensure that anyone who needs a coat can get one.

Have you ever donated a coat and wondered how it might help someone? What the need is for these types of warm clothing items? And what you can do to help address the root causes for this need? Check out my Q&A with Jennifer below and share your thoughts with us by joining the conversation here.

1) What is the mission of One Warm Coat? And how have you tried to fulfill that over the years?

Our mission is simple: to ensure that everyone who needs a warm coat can get one, free of charge. From the moment a small group of friends decided to collect and give away warm coats in San Francisco many years ago to today, we have worked hard to bring awareness to the need for warm coats and to provide the tools that make it easy to solve the problem at the local level. Our decision to "go national" and establish an online presence over ten years ago made the most difference. While the need for warm coats may never be fully met, we are very proud to report that over 4 million coats have been collected and given away through our efforts.

2) The coat drive model has been employed for many decades now - have you seen or adopted any other disruptive or innovative models to help address the need for warm clothing items... and the larger issues that contribute to this need?

The drive model has proven to be a very successful way to collect coats; everyone from a young child to national retailer can hold a drive. We work with groups of all sizes and types and are continuously working to improve our tools and resources to make holding a drive a simple, fun and rewarding process.

While we are not able to solve the larger issues that contribute to the need for warm coats, we are able to bring awareness to the cold-weather challenges that are their result. We often hear from parents who must choose between keeping the lights and heat on -- or even feeding their families -- and providing warm coats for their growing children. It is common for these adults to give their own coats to their children, and to then have no protection of their own. Additionally, the coats worn by un-sheltered adults wear out quickly due to extreme living conditions.

The Internet/Web, combined with our relationships with committed partners and our online presence, provides the perfect means for us to broadcast these stories when we hear them. We work very hard to show the impact that cold weather has on real people "on the ground" and encourage others to make a difference by holding a drive or donating a coat.

3) How can individuals and other organizations get involved and support your team's work?

Our website makes it extra easy for anyone to organize and hold a coat drive. For registered coat drive organizers, we provide a limited license to our logo, downloadable marketing materials and a robust Guidebook that details the Six Easy Steps from start to finish. We also provide a list of One Warm Coat community service agencies across the country that agree to give away coats rather than sell them. Individuals wishing to simply donate a coat are able to use our site's Coat Drive Locator map to find coat drives in their local areas.

While our main objective is related to supporting coat drives, we also treasure monetary support and offer a variety of ways to make contributions online. Without this support, we would not be able to maintain our website, provide support for our coat drive organizers and community service agencies and "spread the word" about the need to "spread the warmth."

4) We have a "Be Fearless" mantra here at the Case Foundation and encourage individuals and organizations to take risks, be bold, and fail forward. Can you share a moment during One Warm Coat's development when you made a choice to Be Fearless?

It was about 10 years ago that One Warm Coat took the first steps toward being a national presence with a vast network of coat drive organizers, community service organizations and committed sponsors. This bold move required us to learn more about the technology that could support the vision, to become extremely well organized and to reach out for assistance in ways they had never done before.

Through the exponential growth in our network, there have been some growing pains. We've struggled occasionally with the need to certify significant numbers of new agency contacts, for example, to assist coat drive organizers in distributing donated coats.

As to other kinds of risks, it may seem a bit odd, but perhaps one of the great risks we have taken is keeping our message and our processes simple. We're committed to simplicity. In a world in which helping others can become a many-layered, complicated process, we strive to show others that providing a warm coat for someone in need is critically important, really quite simple--and infinitely rewarding.

Want to support One Warm Coat and the great work they are doing? The Case Foundation is featuring One Warm Coat as a partner in The 5 Giving Tuesdays campaign -- the Foundation's celebration of giving this holiday season!