“I don’t get new clothes very often and when I do, I feel awesome.”
This child’s words give testimony to what the Assistance League of Salem provides local school children through its program, Operation School Bell.
“We are all about reaching out to help the community,” says Carol Marshall, president of the board of directors for the Salem-based, nonprofit organization.
Through Operation School Bell, the League provides clothing to children who are identified as needing assistance by counselors in the Salem-Keizer School District and at the Chemawa Indian School. This year, the program distributed new clothes and shoes to 2,777 students, pre-K through high school, in the district.
“Children in Head Start through fifth grade get two complete sets of clothing, underwear and shoes,” Marshall says. “Middle school students get to shop at JC Penney and pick out their own clothes with assistance from our members. We give them $100 and the store gives them an extra 20 percent off, so they actually get to spend about $120. High school students get a gift card to shop on their own.”
Children receive clothing and hygiene items once a year, but this year, those who are homeless — about 800 S-K students — will receive new clothing twice a year, Marshall says.
“They also are given extra hygiene supplies,” she adds. “The older children are given laundry vouchers. It’s a really great service for Salem-Keizer, and a really hidden gem for the community.”
About 21 percent of district students live at or below the poverty level, which is $24,250 annually for a family of four. Nearly 60 percent of those students receive free or reduced lunches, according to the Oregon Center for Public Policy and the 2104 Census Bureau.
The Assistance League also runs Puppets with Purpose, an outreach to some 2,600 elementary students on promoting healthy living and preventing bullying.
More than 7,000 students received backpacks and school supplies in 64 schools throughout the school year, all with a counselor’s referral.
Operation Art Adventures helped more than 11,300 elementary, middle and high school students participate in theater activities or receive art supplies for their schools.
“For some children, it’s the only time they see a live performance, an actual performance of a play,” Marshall says. “With READ, we also work with the Salem Public Library to bring a bookmobile to all first-grade classrooms.”
The Assistance League, in partnership with the Salem-Keizer Dental Health Solutions for Children program, helped screen 6,395 elementary students last year.
And the Assistance League helped monitor an auxiliary independent living program for 30 young adults leaving foster care to live in their own living quarters. Participants receive mentoring, transition assistance, and their own housekeeping items.
“One program dear to my heart is that once a month we take up to 30 books to seniors,” Marshall says. “We get to visit. And we donate $5,000 to $6,000 a year to buy books for the program, often in large print or on CDs. It’s a really nice program.”
Operation Bookshelf, in conjunction with the Salem Public Library, served 100 homebound adult patrons with more than 1,200 deliveries of library materials last year.
To help fund the programs, the organization runs two consignment shops: the Daue House Gift Shop at 1095 Saginaw St. S., and Encore Furniture at 1198 Commercial St. S., both in Salem. The stores are open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Saturday, with special holiday hours.
“Encore has furniture, home décor, paintings and other offerings,” Marshall says. “The gift shop is a potpourri of gift and boutique items — just about anything in the home you can think of. Both stores take items on consignment, and the proceeds go toward buying clothes for the kids.”
People can donate knitted hats and scarves, provide new and unused hygiene items, shop at the stores, or donate money or in-kind items to assist the League in their community outreach, Marshall says.
“And we’d love to have new members,” she adds. “We all volunteer, and anyone can join.”
Marshall, who joined the Assistance League in 2001, says simply go to the Daue House Gift Shop to get information on the ways to volunteer. Community volunteers do not pay dues or serve a required number of hours.
Members of the Assistance League’s auxiliary pay annual dues of $70, which are tax deductible and help with the League’s philanthropic programs. Meetings are on the second Thursday of each month from September to May.
“I’ve gotten way more out of this than I’ve given to it,” she says of her 16 years of service. “I’ve made so many good friends. It’s a real pleasure to volunteer with people who care.”