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Programs

Operation School Bell® is the chapter’s primary philanthropic program and was originally created to help children in need from Kindergarten through 6th grade, particularly those students whose school attendance, academic performance, and social adjustment may be affected by the lack of suitable school clothing. The program has evolved over the last 19 years to best meet the needs of the children. Operation School Bell currently clothes Kindergarten – 5th grade students. Children are referred to Operation School Bell by school personnel. Social service agencies and shelters direct families to their children’s schools for clothing referrals. They see the children and their families and are the most able to make an assessment of students’ needs. All shopping is done at a retail store, one in the North County and one in the South County. The children can chose the clothing themselves, getting a proper fit is guaranteed in a store, and the children return to school wearing the same clothes as their peers. This last school year our chapter provided over 1,600 children in our County with school-appropriate wardrobes.

Sue's Stars, which started in July 2009, provided clothing for 7th and 8th graders through a retail shopping experience. 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. Middle school is a crossroads in education. Many students who have been successful through the 6th grade begin to fail in middle school. The stability of elementary school with one teacher who supervises each child’s academic and social adjustment is lost. Middle school 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.” In 2013, 6th grade students were added to Sue’s Stars. We realized that children were getting taller and bigger. The girls particularly were maturing and a good fit in our inventory of pre-purchased clothing could not be had. What was supposed to be a positive, affirming experience often became one of disappointment. Beginning in the 2014-15 school year, we will also be serving high school students in grades 9th – 12th. This has long been a goal of Assistance League and is in response to requests from families and area high schools to address this unmet need to assist older students. It may be our last opportunity to affect the educational experience of disadvantaged children in our County. Our chapter is very proud of its constant assessment of our program and willingness to make changes to accommodate the needs of students.

Operation Bookshelf, provides a grade-appropriate book of his or her choosing to each kindergarten through 12th grade student served. Books are selected by a volunteer committee familiar with children’s literature. Through the grant application process we have been most fortunate and appreciative in having the Molina Foundation fund our Operation Bookshelf program for several years. The books range from pre-readers, primary grade “I Can Read” books, and chapter books for advanced readers. A new book of a child’s own choosing is a pleasure that many of these children experience for the first time.

One testimonial from a teacher at Atascadero Junior High told us that there were two sisters coming to school every day wearing pajama bottoms. One of the sisters was in her class, who will be called Jennifer for our purpose. Jennifer sat in her seat, never participated in class, never smiled and did poorly in her subject. She wanted to be invisible. After Jennifer received new school clothes through Sue’s Stars, in a period of weeks she made a transformation, she lifted her head, started to participate in class, began to smile, then engaged with other students, and her grades improved. This change cost $100…mere pennies for the ultimate result.

On one occasion, a girl who we will call Lisa missed her scheduled clothing appointment at Kohl’s Department Store. Transportation is a huge issue for these families. Lisa was rescheduled and her grandmother came with her. Our Assistance League member explained the process and how much they had to spend. It was decided they would shop without assistance. They were told to meet at a particular register in 40 minutes to be checked out. After about 35 minutes, our member started looking for them and could not find them anywhere in the store. She went into one of the dressing areas and they were there. The grandmother opened the dressing room door and there was a mountain of clothes on the floor. The grandmother said, “We haven’t been shopping for her in so long, we don’t know what size she wears.” So our member stepped in and worked with them. An hour later they were at the register to check out. They had chosen so many clothes; the bill was $135 well over the $100 allowed. The grandmother said, “I want her to have these things.” So she wrote a check for the difference. The three of them walked outside and stood talking in front of the store for several minutes about how important school is. Our member always tries to shake the kids’ hands, and then tell them their cost of the clothes is to do well in school. The grandmother insisted on getting her address. About a week later a thank you note arrived from Lisa. Thanking us many times for the clothes and what we did. She signed her name with a little heart over the “i” in Lisa.

A heart wrenching story. There was a middle school girl who missed the original appointment to be clothed at Kohl’s. An appointment was made to meet Amy and her mother on another day. It was about 6:00 p.m. The mother had obviously come from work and was a mess. Her hair was flying about and she had holes in her jeans. Life had taken its toll on this woman. Amy had a very sour expression and nobody was smiling. Our Assistance League member explained the process about how much could be spent, what could be purchased, and then they all went shopping. That poor little girl…she would only look at black clothing. They reflected her mood but they’re easier to keep clean, you know. Our member was tireless and very patient in showing her items of clothing and insisting she try them on. Our member remembered clearly taking her own daughter shopping when she was 13 and became frustrated with her on more than one occasion! Amy finally settled on some things she liked. Then 20 painful, pouting minutes were spent trying on shoes. She also needed underwear. Some panties and bras were selected. Amy and her mother went into the dressing room and they could be heard, her mother started talking so sweetly to her about the proper fitting of a bra...then they started to giggle. Amy and her mother left smiling with a bag full of new clothes. For our long time member, that was one of her most rewarding days clothing.

     
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