Written by Carol Barry
“Children are one third of our population and all of our future.” – The Promotion of Child Health, 1981
Besides our fabulous Thrift Shop, the Assistance League® of Greater Placer (ALGP) might possibly be best known for our Operation School Bell® School Clothing Program. It would be hard to think of another facet of our organization that more specifically exemplifies our mission: to transform the lives of children and adults through community philanthropic programs. Every year, we ask school personnel in 103 Placer County schools to recommend students whom they feel need clothing. Then we schedule events at the Roseville, Auburn, and Lincoln Target stores, our philanthropic partners. Groups of students are given event dates for when students, accompanied by a family member or guardian, can select school clothes and shoes.
2020 was a game changer due to COVID-19, but the School Clothing Program leadership and committee members rolled up their sleeves, determined to “make it happen” in 2020. There were huge challenges. This program is a “hands on” endeavor that does not lend itself to an online alternative. Plus, schools had trouble referring the children most in need when they weren’t even seeing their students in the classroom! Some of the referred students were unable to attend the School Clothing events because there had been an outbreak of COVID-19 at their school. Other students had outbreaks of the virus within their families and were under quarantine.
The state of California and Placer County imposed necessary restrictions, with which we had to comply. We could only host 50 students per event time slot, whereas normally we serve 250-300 students! That meant doubling up our events. In past years, 25 committee members assisted at each event, but in 2020 only 10 members were permitted to help under the guidelines. Also due to state and county restrictions, NO ONE inside the store was permitted to sit down! This sadly prevented some members from volunteering, although their hearts were there with us. These were the new realities of a pandemic.
Due to funding limitations in 2020, we were not able to reach out to as many students as in the past. Also, we couldn’t be as generous with their spending money. The School Clothing committee chair said “This broke our hearts, but committee members overwhelmingly decided to forge ahead, no matter what. There’s so much caring in this committee!” Events were scheduled, students were selected, and Target was generously on board to make it happen. And happen it did! Masked kids lined up with their parents or guardians; they were given wrist bands with their dollar limits printed on them; they shopped (but couldn’t try on clothes this year), then lined up to be checked out by Assistance League of Greater Placer members. All volunteers wore masks and face guards. Hand sanitizers were available everywhere you looked.
Looking back, few remember the many hardships and the long hours. Wearing masks made talking to kids difficult, but “you could see their smiles in their eyes,” one member recollects. Another volunteer offered to hold a mother’s baby while she registered her daughter, but the mom was cautious.
Another participant relates (with a chuckle!): “I signed up my best friend without asking her. We’re doing this! Get in the car! We’re best friends and we get in trouble a lot together. As new members, we just wanted to take part and knew we ‘should’, but we had a blast! My ‘kidnapped’ friend even wrote an article to encourage others to get involved!”
Janet Lawton, in her first year as the School Clothing Chairperson, reports that the responses she gets are usually quite eager. But one new member was reluctant: “I don’t think I’d be a good fit. I wouldn’t be good at it.” This member later joined the program and reports, “It’s a great group of women. It was tough witnessing some of the family hardships, but I loved talking with the kids . . . I’m very social. I felt like I made a difference.”
Another story that touched heartstrings: A 9 year old young lady excitedly ran to the clothes her friends had selected, exclaiming to an ALGP member, “Look, my friend has this!” The member responded, “You can have that too!” The student grabbed the item and just hugged it! “I met up with this girl at the end of her shopping. She was skipping and bouncing out of the store! Her self esteem went through the roof that night!”
Speaking of self esteem, one ALGP mentor urged a new member to join the School Clothing Program. “I love kids and interacting with them, so I signed up. While volunteering at Target in Auburn, I bumped into an employee who told me this program was very special to him. I asked him why. ‘When I was a high school senior, I had no clothes for school. Your program was a lifesaver for me. I sure appreciated your support.’ He now has a full-time job at Target and shops at our Thrift Store!”
Words fail to convey witnessing the joy of two teenage girls living in foster care, selecting new clothing when all they had was what they were wearing, or watching a hearing-impaired preschooler try to educate her dad about her clothing preferences.
“Huge thanks to the team of helpful volunteers who contributed their talents to the publication and content of the blog this month: Carole Janicke, Vicki Harris, Janet Lawton, Audrey Fish, Janice Carey, Linda Starkey, Mary Ann Flemmer, Carol Blake, Debbie Dalke, Susan Maggi”