Families, local volunteers participate in Operation School Bell

Assistance League volunteer, Sharon Hoglund, right, uses a scanner as she checks out the clothes picked by Skylie Polle, 8, left, and her aunt Celine Luna during the Operation School Bell shopping event held at Old Navy in Stevenson Ranch on Thursday, October 25, 20128. Dan Watson/The Signal

A decades-long tradition continued Thursday as Santa Clarita Valley students gathered with their families and local volunteers for the Assistance League’s Operation School Bell event.

Originally beginning in 1989 with a purpose to distribute donated shoes to students at Wiley Canyon Elementary School, Operation School Bell has since morphed into an annual program that provides new clothes and shoes to local children who have been identified by school administrators.

With bags stuffed full of clothes and gift cards in hand, thousands of children have scoured Old Navy and Payless ShoeSource this year for the footwear, clothes and accessories that will keep them stylish — and warm — at school this winter.

Sponsored by the Assistance League Santa Clarita and many other chapters across the country, the program offers students of all ages the opportunity to spend between $75 and $125 at local retail stores, which can have a profound impact on their lives, said Helen Barlow, the Assistance League’s public relations chair

“We hear stories of kids coming to school in the same outfits everyday,” Barlow. said Some have never owned new school clothes and others come to school cold in the winter because they don’t possess a jacket.

“We’re trying to make them feel better about themselves,” because studies have shown that when children are able to dress like their peers, they have better self-esteem, which leads to better school performance and reduced incidents of bullying, Barlow said. “When children feel good, then they perform even better.”

The students and families who were invited to participate are allowed to spend their gift cards on any item they want as long as the purchases adhere to the school’s dress code guidelines, Barlow said, adding the program is financed mainly through financial donations and revenues from the league’s thrift shop on Main Street in Newhall.

As families waited in line to purchase their new clothes, the young scholars beamed smiles that were as bright as the neon shirts and jackets they selected.

“That’s a feeling that every child should be able to experience,” Barlow said. “That’s what this is all about.”

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