The Assistance League Guild helped clothe over 200 students by allowing them to pick out whatever they wanted, within reason, at JCPenney on Saturday at an event called Operation School Bell.
The nonprofit Assistance League’s Santa Clarita chapter manages a resale store on Bouquet Canyon Road. It uses the sales money from that store to provide philanthropy to students of every school district in the valley. The Assistance League is entirely made up of volunteers.
School districts select students based on need to participate in the event, who then show up and are presented with a gift card that can be used for school-appropriate clothes.
Karina Flores, there with her three kids who all attend Peachland Elementary School, said she tries to pick out new shoes for her boys every once in a while, but it can be difficult to do so at times, particularly because boys tend to go through shoes faster.
“It’s a big help being a single mom. It’s, you know, it’s kind of hard to get them what they want at times,” said Flores. “So it’s a big help, maybe I don’t have to buy clothes and stuff, maybe I’ll be able to get them something else that they would like and they don’t always get new clothes since there’s three of them, so it’s pretty hard for me. It helps a lot.”
Elizabeth Tarantini, a social worker at Bowman High School, said the Assistance League has been a big help to the students at Bowman. In addition to Operation School Bell, the guild’s flagship program, it also provides vision care, books and scholarships for students.
In regards to Operation School Bell, Tarantini said the program helps remove barriers that prevent students from either having success at school or even showing up.
“It gives them the opportunity to have warm clothes. For some of them, this may be their only opportunity to have things like new shoes (and) new jackets that aren’t hand-me-down,” said Tarantini. “So for a lot of these kids, it’s really a necessity and some of these things, believe it or not, especially when the weather changes, keeps them from coming to school.”
Marcia Weldon, co-chair of Operation School Bell, attested to Tarantini’s sentiments.
“I just saw a student in the elevator and she had a bag of clothes and she was all excited telling me she’s going to wear something new to school tomorrow,” said Weldon. “So these are kids who otherwise wouldn’t have the opportunity to get new clothing.”
According to the Assistance League, over 35,000 students received new school clothing for a cumulative total of $3,600,993 nationwide since Operation School Bell began in 1991.
“There’s a lot of us out there, we blend in with the crowd,” said Joshua Marquez, a College of the Canyons student who was selected through the Educational Opportunity Program. Marquez is studying engineering and hopes to be an aerospace engineer. The work he’s doing quickly dirties his clothes and it’s difficult for him to replace them as quickly as they get ruined. He was able to pick up $200 worth of pants and shoes at Sunday’s event.
“We’re not trying to be seen,” he said. “We don’t force it onto other people. This life was forced onto us and most of us have sacrificed a lot, I know I have. I put down some of my educational years so I can protect my family. It wasn’t easy … I just wish some people would listen sometimes.”