Written By Carol Barry
“Sometimes the smallest things take up the most room in your heart”
~ Winnie the Pooh
If you have, or have ever had, children in a local school system, you undoubtedly have heard of Operation School Bell® (OSB). It’s the one premier community program that all 120 Assistance League® chapters offer nationwide. OSB is the solid rock upon which Assistance League was founded.
Local public K-12 schoolteachers and administrators have, for many years, relied on Assistance League of Greater Placer to provide clothing and backpacks to those students who need them, including warm coats and shoes for winter. It is a well-known fact that students learn better when they aren’t worried about how they are dressed in comparison to other kids. Teachers report that some students do not attend school regularly simply because they have little to wear. And one Assistance League member overheard this story: A brother and sister were attending school on alternate days. Someone noticed. It was learned that they only had one pair of shoes between them!
Fortunately, Placer County school teachers understand this. They identify students in need and enter their names directly into our chapter’s OSB Event Manager system. The system then creates invitations, permission forms and other documentation for the schools to distribute to the students who are selected to participate in a shopping event.
These shopping events are held each October at Target Stores in Auburn, Lincoln, Rocklin and Roseville. Target has long supported OSB through its generous discounts and the use of its stores for these shopping events. Under its national program, Target gives 3% back on its gift card orders that are used for OSB purchases. Local stores also give a 5% discount on the sales at these events. We applaud Target for joining us in supporting our local students so that they can be adequately clothed during their school years.
The shopping events are a family affair. Along with each student come parents, grandparents, brothers, sisters and other relatives. Siblings who were not selected by their schools are invited to shop at the events as well. If there are other children in the family, they are automatically registered and included. One family with four kids, each holding a pair of brand-new shoes, came up to the register. “These are the only shoes they have,” explained their adult guardian. One working mother shopped with her son and explained, “I paid for Uber to get us here, but I don’t have enough money to get us home.”
In addition to the School Clothing Committee members, other Assistance League volunteers attend each event, making sure clothing selected is appropriate for school and guiding the children who have shopped up to a register to check out. Assistance League of Greater Placer clothed over 1,300 school children in 2021 and hopes to spend up to $160,000 to clothe 1500 in 2022. The amazing thing about our chapter’s generosity is that it is contagious! Many Target shoppers who witness OSB shopping events, and learn that school children in need are receiving school clothes and shoes, reach into their wallets and donate on the spot! Last year Target shoppers donated an “extra” $450 to OSB simply because they were inspired by what they witnessed.
Public support of Operation School Bell is testament to our local communities’ dedication to school children. The United Auburn Indian Community generously donates to OSB every year and their 2022 grant was $7,000! OSB also received a most appreciated $5,000 grant from Auburn Host Lions Club to help clothe Auburn students.
Also in 2022, $5,000 was donated to Operation School Bell by the TEGNA Foundation through its community grants program. OSB committee chairpersons were also invited to participate in a broadcast of their morning show. One producer confided, “My nephew received clothing and shoes at one of OSB’s shopping events. I can’t thank you enough.”
“This is the first time in my life that I’ve had new clothes!” – A grateful student
Special thanks to Jamie Hershman, OSB School Clothing Committee Chairperson, for her input. Much gratitude to Vicki Harris who has been a tremendous resource to all OSB programs for many, many years. Gratitude to all the ALGP members who have been inspired by this philanthropy, and who have jumped on board: long-standing members Janet Lawton and Linda Martinez, in particular. Finally, to some of our newest members who are the heart of our organization . . . much appreciation for dedicating your time to the OSB School Clothing Committee: Patti Swan, Mary Ann Flemmer, Terren Powell and Debbie Dalke . . . among others!