Operation School Bell opens doors to help children in Tucson

Volunteers with the Assistance League of Tucson help students pick out new school clothes
Updated: Sep. 12, 2019 at 4:32 PM MST
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TUCSON, Ariz. - The Assistance League of Tucson opened the doors of Operation School Bell and welcomed the first busload of children to pick out their new school clothes.

The event was held at Rivera Elementary School and volunteers expected to dress about 36 children.

Operation School Bell is the signature philanthropic program of Assistance League Tucson. The program gives new school clothes to school children in need. This year, Operation School Bell will serve children from 40 public schools and four agencies.

Since its inception in 1994, the organization has provided new clothes to more than 71,000 area school children.

“This year our goal is to provide school clothes to nearly 5,000 children,” said Kim Sparling, president of Assistance League of Tucson. “This includes both uniform and non-uniform schools.”

The programs brings students -- in grades kindergarten through eight -- to the league’s Philanthropic Programs Center on Alvernon Way. The shop is set up just like a small department store.

With the help of volunteers, children get to pick out their own clothes, a backpack and an age-appropriate book to take home. They are also given a $25 voucher to purchase new shoes at any Burlington Store.

Children who are not able to come to the Assistance League’s Center are met at a local JCPenney store where volunteers greet them and help them find new school clothes.

Children attending schools that require uniforms, are given $75 Burlington vouchers to spend on uniforms and shoes.

“The impact of the program is felt in several ways,”said Helen Van Auken, a retired principal and Operation School Bell volunteer.

Helen said she’s seen an increase in self-esteem at school when students are provided with appropriate clothing.

“Bullying is reduced and there is even an increase in academic effort,” she said.

Sally Johnson, Operation School Bell program chair and manager, said the number of families served has increased exponentially during her eight years.

School personnel shared many stories of success:

  • The boy who didn’t come to school every day because he had to share a pair of shoes with his brother
  • Children who could not fully participate in PE/recess activities until Operation School Bell provided them with sturdy, dependable shoes
  • The playground aide who noted a profound change in playground participation right after 36 students attended a “dressing event”
  • The Principal of Oyama Elementary who gleefully announced that her school had received a B rating from the AZ State Board of Education for the first time.

“It is our hope that the clothing provided by Assistance League’s Operation School Bell contributed to that improved rating," Johnson said. “The happiness, joy, and smiles on the faces of children are food for our souls. The volunteers at Operation School Bell are dedicated to giving them the dignity and confidence that comes with starting a school year with new clothes and supplies for a better chance at success."

Assistance League of Tucson is a volunteer organization with over 400 members who donate more than 45,000 hours annually to charitable programs serving our community. Over 75 percent of revenue goes back into the Tucson Community.

Other Assistance League programs include Starting Over Supplies, Teddy Bear Program and Assault Survivor Kits.

If you are interested in learning how to become a volunteer, please go HERE. Information on donating to the group is available HERE.