Assistance League provides school clothes for those in need

Not every kid gets to go shopping for new school clothes. Enter Operation School Bell, the Assistance League of San Luis Obispo County’s annual program, which provides clothing and school supplies for children in need.

Assistance League members are busy helping children pick out clothes at Kohl’s in Paso Robles and Old Navy in San Luis Obispo during the first couple of months of the new school year.

Last year, they dressed 2,180 students and are on pace this year to do at least that many and probably more if funding permits, said ALSLOC Chapter President Helen Robertson on Thursday at Kohl’s.

“We just love helping kids. It’s a joy,” Robertson said. “We want them to know that we care about them.”

This is the SLO chapter’s 24th year of Operation School Bell. It is the chapter’s primary philanthropic program and was created to help children in need from kindergarten through sixth grade.

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Assistance League of San Luis Obispo County volunteer helps children pick out shoes at Kohl’s in Paso Robles as part of the organization’s Operation School Bell.
Photo by Brian Williams

The program now clothes kindergarten through 12th-grade students. Students are referred to Operation School Bell by school personnel. Social service agencies and shelters direct families to their children’s schools for clothing referrals.

Each student clothed also receives a grade-appropriate book of their choosing through Operation Bookshelf; a tote bag filled with paper, pens, pencils, binders through Operation School Supply; and a dental hygiene kit with toothbrush, toothpaste, dental floss and brushing instructions through Operation Dental Kit.

The younger kids can spend up to $150 on clothes and the older students can spend $185 on school clothes, said Robertson.

Lupe Campos, a single mother from Atascadero, and her two children have benefitted from Operation School Bell for the past two years. Her children attend San Benito Elementary.

“I recommend it to anybody that needs the extra help,” Campos said. “It’s a blessing that they can do this for so many kids. It helps me out a lot.”

SLO chapter member Roxie Perry was stationed in the shoe department at Kohl’s on Thursday.

“They can come here and get some clothes and feel like they are part of the crowd,” Perry said. “They are not picked out because they don’t have good clothes or a good pair of shoes. We can give them a little joy for a day.”

Money for Operation School Bell comes from a variety of sources, but mostly from their Thrift Store at 667 A Marsh St., San Luis Obispo, Robertson said. The Thrift Store opened in 2015 and is staffed entirely by member volunteers.

“We apply for grants, we have events, we get donations and we have our Thrift Store,” Robertson said. “One hundred percent of the money stays in the county to dress kids. We pay no staff. We volunteer at the thrift store and we volunteer here.”

Robertson said they have a tremendous relationship with the retail outlets Kohl’s and Old Navy.

“We used to order the clothes and go to the school site but the kids didn’t necessarily see what they wanted and they didn’t fit the clothes that we had so were excited to go to retail,” Robertson said. “It’s a very good partnership. We are very fortunate to have that partnership with us.”

Seeing the families leave with bags of clothes, books, and dental and school supplies is gratifying for Assistance League of San Luis Obispo County members. Everyone had a story to tell of that special kid or family.

“We had a young man who goes to Old Navy in South County and he was waving to the ladies and saying ‘Thank you for what you do,’” Roberston said. “Finally one of them said, ‘How do you know us?’ and he said ‘You got me clothes for four years and now I’m in college and if it weren’t for you guys, I probably wouldn’t be here.’ It keeps us going.”

For more information, visit online ALSLOCounty.org.