In just a few short weeks, parents will be ushering in the start of a new school year with a myriad of familiar activities. The back-to-school shopping dash will undoubtedly be one of the most familiar exercises for some parents, who will find themselves packing their shopping carts with pencils, crayons, books and shoes among a number of other items.
While some families in the area will enjoy the opportunity to afford everything their children need, other families will struggle just to get by. Necessities such as shirts, pants, shoes and jackets will be hard to procure.
That’s why the Assistance League of the Temecula Valley is preparing once again to clothe hundreds of children in school districts in Temecula, Murrieta, Menifee and Lake Elsinore.
The Assistance League is a non-profit organization that aims to help members of communities throughout the country with philanthropic programs. The Temecula chapter of the organization hosts a thrift store and engages in various charitable endeavors in order to help people who are in need.
The chapter will be starting their Operation School Bell once again; the yearly program aims to help students who come from low income households by providing them with clothing, jackets, shoes and more.
The program was started at the Assistance League’s headquarters in Burbank, but the Temecula chapter has been a participant every year.
This time around the Assistance League has a budget of approximately $260,500 and will use all of it. The program receives donations from community grants and companies such as Southern California Edison and Pechanga but is mostly supported by revenue from the thrift store.
Last year the organization clothed 1,812 children and this year they are expecting to clothe a similar number.
Children are invited by their school district and their families are required to provide proof of income and address among a number of other things before they can participate. Approximately 500 students from each district are expected to receive invites, according to Assistance League President Sue Sampson.
In the early days of the Temecula version of the program, students in the area would receive three pairs of pants, socks, shoes, underwear, a backpack, a jacket and a hygiene kit.
These days, however, the program has been electing to do something different by giving students a chance to choose their clothing at one of four participating department stores with a $125 gift card. Annette Sheehy, the chairwoman for Philanthropic Programs, said that the decision to do so has been a big help.
Sheehy said the stores’ employees provide much needed man power to help to clothe and find items for local children, but that’s not the only benefit.
“Back in the day you knew which kids were operation school bell,” Sheehy said “They all got the same little jacket and (clothing items), so we said let’s try this out.”
Sheehy added that shopping at department stores like Target or Kohls allows the children to find items that make them feel like they fit in better at school. She’s not the only at the Assistance League who believes that’s the case.
“For a lot of these students it’s their first time being in a store and their first time being able to buy things in a store,” said Sue Sampson, president of Temecula’s Assistance League. “And you’ll have kids who get that one pair of tennis shoes that they want so they can be like everyone else. It’s really important.”
The Temecula, Murrieta and Menifee Kohl’s locations have all been participants; the Lake Elsinore Target has been a participant, too.
Between these four stores there will be 16 dressings and many dozens of children will have the opportunity to pick out clothes that they like with their families before the start of the school year in a singular dressing session.
Sheehy said she encourages people to get as close to the $125 limit as they can. She also said the dressing opportunities provide children and their families with good lessons in fiscal responsibility since they have to get the most bang for their buck.
“We feel like it’s a real learning experience for them because they usually don’t have $125 to spend,” Sheehy said“And they have to budget it and figure out what’s really important.”
There will be 16 dressings during the months of September and October and Sheehy and Sampson said they’re excited to see how people are helped by the program.
“It’s a very emotional experience for everyone,” Sheehy said. “There are lots of wonderful stories to be told.”