Ian Rich has been practicing karate for seven years. The Santa Rosa boy is 11 and a second-degree junior black belt.
He is also the founder of Operation Blanket, a nonprofit he started when he was 9 and learned the word “compassion” from his sensei.
“It means wanting to help someone,” he said. “And that, to me, is what Operation Blanket is.”
Ian, who is home-schooled, said he would see homeless people around town, and so he thought helping them would be a good way of showing his sensei that he understood the new word.
“We were sitting down at dinner, and we were asking him to give us ideas,” said Ian’s mother, Cary Rich. “His idea was to give everyone new homes, and we kind of laughed and said that’s a great idea, but we need to start out a little smaller.”
Ian decided on blankets. That night, when the family got home from dinner, Cary and her husband, Josiah Rich, went online and started Operation Blanket’s website.
That was April 15, 2014. By November, Ian already had won a Champions for Children award from the Community Child Care Council of Sonoma County. Two weeks ago, he was nominated by the American Red Cross for a youth humanitarian award, his mother said.
So far, the organization has collected about 400 blankets, which it then turns over to Catholic Charities and the Sonoma County Task Force on the Homeless.
“My favorite part is delivering the blankets,” Ian said. “They shake my hand, and they thank me. It makes people happy.”
Last weekend, the organizers had a drive at Coddingtown Mall, where they collected 25 blankets and money to buy another 10.
“And that was just in a four-hour drive,” Cary said.
They also distribute bins at different locations throughout the county.
The first time they collected a bin, Cary said, when they started going through it, all they saw at first were small throw blankets.
“But when we actually made the delivery and we were emptying out the blankets, there were $140 down blankets just jam-packed in this barrel,” she said. “I was just — I almost broke down in tears, but I controlled myself. I don’t want my son to see me cry, but I was just blown away. The generosity of people is just incredible.”
Want to donate or host a drive? Head to OperationBlanket.com and fill out the contact sheet.
You can reach Staff Writer Christi Warren at 521-5205 or email@example.com. On Twitter @SeaWarren.