Operation School Bell came to Seaside Heights Elementary School this fall with the Assistance League of the Columbia Pacific eager to provide new school clothing and winter coats for children in need. It was one program out of many helping to provide new outfits for children for whom the clothes might be beyond reach.
The Assistance League is active throughout the school year, but the fall programs offer additional treats. Eligible students are given an exclusive shopping trip, at stores such as the Nike Factory Store, Ross Dress for Less, J.C. Penney’s, Payless Shoes and Ter Har’s in Seaside. With the help of a one-on-one volunteer chaperone, the students get to pick out clothes or shoes up to a specific dollar amount.
Assistance League volunteer Paivi Ter Har, who coordinates the effort at Gearhart Elementary and is a co-owner of Ter Har’s with her husband Jeff, works with about 10 volunteers to assist her in measuring and finding out what kind of clothing students need or prefer. These could include coats, sweatshirts, dresses, pajamas, tops, underwear and shoes.
At Ter Har’s elementary school shopping night in October, the Assistance League provided $125 for each eligible student. That amount was matched by the store to enable $250 worth of clothing purchases, Ter Har said.
High-school and middle-school students received clothing and a goody bag replete with cinch-sack, water bottle, and bonus items from the store.
“It’s just a great event,” Ter Har said. “We receive back by being able to do this. Last year we clothed over 600 kids in Clatsop County.”
On Tuesday at the Seaside Outlets, Nike Night served boys from Seaside, Warrenton, Knappa, Astoria and Jewell. About 100 boys enjoyed pizza, music and snacks along with purchases of clothing, jackets and shoes.
A team of volunteers visited Seaside Heights Elementary School early last month to meet with more than 30 students, take their measurements and get their preferences. Over the next few days, the volunteers went about acquiring the clothes, first at the Assistance League’s warehouse and then at local stores. They returned to the school Oct. 13 to deliver the clothes.
“It’s so community based,” Kathy Arndt, a volunteer from Warrenton, said of Operation School Bell, the Assistance League’s signature program. “You see the results immediately. It’s one of these things where it’s good all around.”
Each Clatsop County school has a team of volunteers dedicated to serving the students by meeting them and then returning with clothes that fit their specifications and preferences. The teams serve the same ratio of students compared to overall student body at each school. This year, it was about 8 percent, which equals 37 students at Seaside Heights.
Sally LaCoste said she asked school administration how many students could use the service if funding allowed, and the answer was between 40 and 50.
“We’re working on getting that information from each school so we could dress more,” which would require more fundraising, chapter President Jane Cartwright said.
The school counselor and principal of each school identifies the students most in need. They are sent home with permission slips to be signed by their parents or guardians. One of the organization’s challenges, LaCoste said, is getting the permission slips signed by parents and returned to school.
The Assistance League is a national, volunteer-driven nonprofit organization. The Columbia Pacific chapter, serving Clatsop youth, was established in 2011, joining more than 120 other chapters nationwide. The group was functioning as a guild three years prior to that while working on becoming an official chapter, Cartwright said.
The local chapter’s programs primarily benefit children in need. They are focused on providing clothes that “heal a lot of hurt,” “build confidence and self esteem” and “keep youth wanting to go to school,” Cartwright said.
Arndt said Operation School Bell, which serves students in kindergarten to 12th grade twice per year in the fall and spring, is her favorite program administered by the Assistance League of the Columbia Pacific. Throughout the year, volunteers will purchase clothing on sale or using coupons to stock the organization’s warehouse in preparation for the program. If necessary items are not available at that source when it comes time to supply clothes to the students, volunteers go shopping at local establishments to fill in the gaps.
Volunteer Claire Putz, of Warrenton, said her favorite program is Cinderella’s Closet, because it is about “making a teenage girl a princess for a day.”
Cinderella’s Closet, with an inventory of more than 200 gowns, gives high school girls the opportunity to use the dresses — in addition to shoes, jewelry and other accessories — for their homecoming or prom dances. There is no charge to use the dresses. They have to be returned after the event, but the girls may keep the shoes and accessories.
The Assistance League of the Columbia Pacific also contributes funds to help students participate in sports and acquire the appropriate gear, and runs a Duffle Bag program that provides county children being placed into the foster care system with a bag filled with comfort items, such as pajamas, a blanket, a stuffed animal, a book and toiletries.
“The whole thing, it makes you feel good,” Putz said.
Overall, the Columbia Pacific chapter helps clothe more than 600 schoolchildren throughout Clatsop County, raises more than $80,000 and invests more than 8,000 volunteer hours from about 140 volunteers.
The organizations hosts several fundraisers, such as the annual Home and Chef Tour, held Oct. 10; the Fabulous Fun Night gala March 5 at the Astoria Armory, featuring dinner, games, music and a marketplace with homemade goods; and the annual Golf Ball Drop in Astoria in the spring. The remainder of funding comes from grants and community donations. Every year, the club does a direct mailing fundraiser.
The chapter is always looking for more volunteers and members.
All regular meetings are held on the first Thursday of each month from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. at Englund Marine Supply Co. in Astoria.
To join, donate or get more information, visit www.assistanceleaguecp.org or contact the organization at PO Box 596, Astoria 97103.