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Operation School Bell® is the chapter’s primary philanthropic program and was created to help children in need from Kindergarten through 6th grade, particularly those students whose school attendance and or performance may be affected by the lack of suitable school clothing. Children who are referred to Operation School Bell through school personnel or a Social Service agency receive two pairs of jeans, two tops, a pair of shoes, socks, underwear, jacket, toothbrush and toothpaste. All clothing is brand new and chosen by the child at one of the two chapter sites, with the assistance of a volunteer. The two facilities, one in San Luis Obispo and one in Atascadero, plus it’s Outreach Program for students in remote areas, has served approximately 1,100 students each year throughout the county. This last school year the local organization clothed over 1,500 children in our county, a dramatic increase over prior years.

Sue's Stars, which started in July 2009, provides clothing for 7th and 8th grade students through a shopping event with a local retailer. Kindergarten through 6th grade students "age out" of the Operation School Bell program when they enter the 7th grade. However, they do not "age out" of poverty. Junior high school is a crossroads in education. Many students who have been successful through the 6th grade begin to fail in junior high school. The stability in elementary school with one teacher who supervises each child’s academic and social adjustment is lost. Junior high is a time when children are most critical of themselves and their peers. Sue’s Stars is a positive way to free a child from the most basic criticism of looking "different". Assistance League members believe that each child in our community deserves the opportunity to begin the school year with their basic necessities met, which will in turn enhance their pride and self esteem, translating into a more successful academic experience.

The chapter's program, Operation Bookshelf, provides each child served by Operation School Bell with a new, grade-appropriate book of his or her choice. Books are selected by a volunteer committee familiar with children’s literature. Book shelves at the two facilities are stocked with pre-readers, primary grade "I Can Read" books and chapter books for advanced readers. A new book of the child's own choosing is a pleasure that many of these children experience for the first time. We have been most fortunate and appreciative in having the Molina Foundation fund our Operation Bookshelf program for the past few years.

The Pink Coat It was an unusually hot day in August, particularly for San Luis Obispo. A family walked into our Operation School Bell clothing site with children to be clothed. One of our members, Gail, took the youngest of the three children, Tina, by the hand and told her they would pick out a pair of new shoes. Tina immediately asked, "Can I get a pink coat?" Gail replied that they would certainly see if there was a pink coat after picking out shoes, pants, and tops. Tina quickly replied, "What if someone takes the pink coat before I get it?" Gail realized Tina must have spotted the coat upon entering the clothing facility, and this was what she wanted. Gail looked back at the coat racks and sure enough there was a pretty pink one that looked about one size bigger than Tina might wear.

They walked to the coat racks and Gail got the coat and put it on Tina; as she thought, it was one size too large. Gail pushed up the sleeves, zipped it up, and said, "What do you think?" Tina's quiet response was, “Can I have it?” Gail looked over at her mom who was smiling and gave a nod to Gail that said, We will make it work. With her pink coat still zipped up, Gail and Tina went over and picked out a pair of new shoes.

After selecting shoes, Tina took her time picking out tops and pants for school. She was sent to the dressing room with instructions to try on a top and pair of pants and come back out to show Gail how they fit. After awhile she returned with the top and pants on as well as her pink coat all zipped up. Gail told her she looked beautiful and to try on the other top and pants that they had picked out. Yes, she once again returned with the second outfit on, topped by the zipped pink coat. She changed back into her own clothes, put the coat back on and we completed our shopping, choosing a backpack and a book.

Tina left us that hot August day with her new pink coat all zipped up and a happy smile on her face.

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