Back-to-school shopping is an annual tradition for many, as children return to campus each fall sporting the newest looks. While there are many Santa Clarita residents who would normally have to forgo this luxury to afford other necessities, Assistance League Santa Clarita is there to help.
Each year, the Assistance League hosts Operation School Bell program, in which children with financial need are selected by their teachers to go on a back to school shopping trip sponsored by the Assistance League. The program, which is funded through the League’s resale shop, runs on 24 dates from September to November and allows students from one Santa Clarita school each week to shop at Old Navy. Students from preschool through fifth grade who qualify are eligible for $85 vouchers; students from sixth grade to college, $145.
There is no official criteria for program qualification outside of teacher recommendation, but each of Santa Clarita’s 52 schools is allocated a certain amount of vouchers based upon statistics the Assistance League receives about the federal reduced school lunch program. Connie Loerch, co-chair for Operation School Bell, estimated that on Monday night alone 120 students came to shop with the program.
“It’s a lot of work to put this on each year, but seeing the looks on the faces of the parents and kids is very rewarding,” said Melanie Cotterell, who’s also co-chair. “It’s nice that the kids can have new clothes to go to school, and the whole point is for them to make them feel better about themselves so they perform better in school.”
Gayle Abril-Nolet, president elect of the Assistance League, said as a former elementary school principal, she saw the direct impact that having new clothes has on students.
“When a child came to school with a brand new outfit, there was always a huge smile on their face,” Abril-Nolet said. “It’s a real joy and it elevates their self esteem, and I feel good in new clothes so I know they do, too. This program is the heart of what we do as the Assistance League and it feels wonderful to be able to impact the children of our community like this. Maybe because of this program, a child will be able to sign up for little league sports or another program because this is one less financial burden they have to worry about.”
Brandy Birch and her son Michael Woodley were accepted as part of Operation School Bell this year.
“This program makes the rest of the year a little easier the fewer things we have to spend on, especially because right now he’s growing so fast that he usually grows out of clothes before he wears them out,” Birch said. “This is the third year that we’ve been a part of this program and we didn’t even know about it before our first year. We didn’t even have to ask for help, they just showed up and gave the help to us.”