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Assistance League Puts the Power Of Purchasing Into Students' Hands

by User Not Found
March 26, 2019
CoastHills representative Amanda Hollingworth, center, presents a $500 donation to Assistance League of San Luis Obispo County President Sue Pino, left, and Fashion Show Committee member Susan Lawson.

Last year, 2,300 underprivileged grade school students received brand new school clothes thanks to the Assistance League of San Luis Obispo County’s "Operation School Bell" program.

The Assistance League of SLO County is a nonprofit run entirely by volunteers who are passionate about making a difference for the children in their county. They launched Operation School Bell 23 years ago and have helped over 28,000 students over the years.

Here’s how the program works: Schools, homeless shelters and social workers throughout the county reach out to the nonprofit when they identify a student in need. Volunteers from the Assistance League make arrangements to meet the student at the local Kohl’s or Old Navy — stores that have agreed to provide special discounts to help the students get the most out of their funds. The Assistance League provides the students with a budget of $120 for kindergarten through elementary age, and $185 for middle and high school students. 

“Some of them have never been in a retail setting, they’ve never gone shopping for themselves, never had new clothes that they picked.” said Sue Pino, Assistance League President, “I’ve clothed a family of six children being raised by a grandparent. She was crying, saying she could hardly feed them let alone clothe them.”

Having to wear old, worn, and outdated clothing can create a barrier between the student and their peers and can invite bullying or otherwise damage their self-esteem.

The shopping trip also effects students in an unexpected way — not only do the volunteers help the student shop, they talk to them and encourage their studies and interests. Bonnie Long, Assistance League Vice President of Marketing & Communications emphasized the impact of positive reinforcement.

Recently, a school counselor reached out to the League to let them know just how important something as little as a conversation has been for the students the school’s referred over.

"These kids don’t have positive adult role models," Bonnie said. "You make them feel welcome, that you care for them and are interested in them. You ask them about school and what they like. They come back from the experience so excited.”  

Said Sue: “We want to be a part of their success and education."

The League even started putting together hygiene and school supply kits to give their students an extra boost. They also offer information on preparing for college, and how to apply and seek financial aid to those in middle school and older.

Although they have consistently been able to help over 2,000 students each year, there is always a waiting list. In SLO County, an estimated 14,000 children are living in poverty. That’s nearly a quarter of all children in SLO County.

To do more, the Assistance League needs volunteers and donations, like the $500 recently donated by the CoastHills Community Foundation through the Community Action Sponsorships program. The League opened a volunteer-run thrift boutique in downtown SLO four years ago that has become something of a destination, allowing them to sustain current operations. In April, they hold their annual Charitable Chic Fashion Show fundraiser. Those interested in getting involved by making a donation, volunteering, or buying a ticket to the fashion show can learn more on their website

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