Operation School Bell runs from August through November.
Published: October 31, 2018
By: Lori Chandler Pruitt
Volunteers with the Operation School Bell program of the Assistance League of Birmingham love to see the faces of children with an armful of brand-new school clothes. Before then, they had little or no hope of getting them.
“When kids feel good about what they’re wearing, they will be more productive,” says Didi Manley of Assistance League® of Birmingham. “It is wonderful to see the look on their faces when they realize those new clothes are theirs.”
Through Operation School Bell, which runs from August through November, more than 42 schools in the Birmingham area will bring children by bus to the league’s offices in Homewood. School counselors identify children who are in need.
“We are stocked and ready, and we are informed ahead of time each child’s sizes from their parents, or they can try on clothes to make sure they fit – we have 12 private changing rooms,” Manley says. “All of our clothes for Operation School Bell are brand new.”
Since 1985, the non-profit organization has clothed more than 35,000 Birmingham area school children. The program is funded through grants, philanthropy and donations, plus 100 percent of the sales from its Encore Thrift Store. The organization has an annual spring gala and other fundraisers, including one this month, the Little Black Dress Luncheon & Fashion Show.
The group also receives a portion of sales from its PrimeTime Treasures store, featuring beautiful handmade crafts from senior artisans. Items sold in PrimeTime Treasures also helps senior citizens meet their financial needs, Manley says.
The league purchases clothes in bulk from different stores, including major department stores. Storage rooms are neatly organized with boys and girls jeans in every size, shirts, hoodies, underwear and socks. Kids also can pick out a new book and pencils.
Volunteers make sure each child has a new shirt in their favorite color or depicting their favorite sport. They also receive two pairs of jeans, three t-shirts, a hoodie, six pairs of underwear, six pairs of socks and a hygiene kit. If kids are required to wear uniforms, they receive two pairs of uniform pants, three uniform shirts, a casual jean/T-shirt outfit and all the rest.
“We buy in big groups of clothing from lots of places,” Manley explains. “That way, we have different styles, sizes and choices for the kids. They are excited about having a field trip and looking at new clothes, but when they discover that they get to keep the clothes in the tote bag, they are even more excited. For some students, it is the first time they have had brand-new clothes that were not handed down.”
Kids also are provided an area to draw, color and have fun during the clothing event, “and they write such sweet thank-you notes,” Manley says. “We laminate them and display them.”
As soon as the event is over for the school year, volunteers begin replenishing the neat, organized storeroom for the next year.
The group also helps middle school students who need clothing by meeting them at stores to help them choose the clothing they want to wear, Manley says. “We think it’s better to let them shop, since they are older and know what the kids wear,” she says.
The league also has a program called Operation Literacy, where students receive books, can participate in ESL (English as a Second Language) pen pals and tutoring. “We are a working organization,” she says. “We are available to speak to groups and clubs about the Assistance League and what we do. It is worth it to see these kids so happy.”
To help, volunteer or become a member, call 205-870-5555, or go to www.assistanceleaguebhm.org or the group’s Facebook page, Assistance League of Birmingham.
Lori Chandler Pruitt is associate editor of Birmingham Parent.