As any serious student of human beings knows, it’s what’s on the inside that matters most.
But sometimes something nice to wear on the outside can also make a big difference on the inside.
The more than 160 volunteers of the Assistance League of Greater Portland know this very well.
In the past school year, the charity’s Operation School Bell program distributed clothing vouchers to nearly 3,000 students in the Beaverton and Hillsboro school districts, as well as $15,000 for new clothes to students. of the Portland Public Schools District.
The charity, founded in 1961, is one of the beneficiaries of The Oregonian/OregonLive’s 2022 holiday fundraising campaign.
“They have made all the difference” in the lives of students, said Audra Scott of the Beaverton School District. “There are so many ways this program helps students.”
The local charity became a chapter of the Relief League – there are 120 nationwide – in 1965 and now operates on a budget of just over $720,000, much of it was raised through the sale of second-hand items at her Beaverton thrift and consignment store, ranging from clothes to dazzling jewelry. and furniture and household items.
> Donate to Greater Portland Assistance League or the Season of Sharing General Fund
People can drop off adult clothing and household items on Tuesdays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., and the shop is open Thursdays and Saturdays from 12 p.m. to 4 p.m.
Donations from individual and corporate sponsors as well as grants from foundations and governments also play an important role.
And no one working for the organization gets paid a penny.
The work is done entirely by volunteers, including one, Gwen Wildfong, now 96, who was there when the association was created. They collect donations, assess their value, display them in the boutique (there are three spaces: clothing and jewelry, homewares and furniture, and a consignment service that often carries high-end items). They even gather to fill vouchers for new clothes.
As for what motivates them, chapter president Mary Johnson explained, “My mom raised me to do the right thing and I’ve always volunteered.
And Operation School Bell leader Michele Wiitala said she had been driven all her life by “an enormous responsibility to give back”.
Wiitala was instrumental in the charity’s shift in 2020 from buying clothes for students, which are identified by their districts, to issuing vouchers so students (and parents) can choose the clothes themselves.
“We were dealing with more and more students,” said Operation School Bell co-chair Patty Funes, “and we had to make a change.”
Johnson said they’ve known for a while that it’s time to stop buying all the kids’ clothes.
“Sometimes we had too much of one size and not enough of another,” she said. “We needed more flexibility.
And so, with Wiitala taking the helm of the Assistance League and working on the issue with partners like Scott from the Beaverton School District, the voucher system was born.
It wasn’t about adapting to COVID-19 but, “when it hit,” Johnson said, “we were ready.”
Now, the Greater Portland nonprofit regularly hears from other chapters about how to implement a similar program.
In Beaverton, nearly 1,100 elementary school children received $125 vouchers (for use at Fred Meyer) and $150 vouchers were given to 684 middle and high school students.
In Hillsboro, there were 727 elementary students and 462 older children.
“It allows children to spend the money however they want on school clothes,” Wiitala explained, adding that the charity monitors what is happening with the vouchers, receives copies of sales receipts and makes checks. spot checks to make sure the money is being spent properly.
School districts identify students who would benefit from the program, one of the main factors being homelessness.
“Last spring we had 1,370 students identified as homeless,” said Scott of Beaverton. “Some of these kids never picked things out for themselves or got new clothes.
“You should see the looks on their faces.”
Scott, was the district liaison with the local Relief League for seven years and is so impressed with what she does that she said, “When I retire, that’s where I’m coming from.
For those who wish to help now, there are several ways to do so, according to the charity’s Vice President of Resource Development, Jamie Marucha.
“They can donate, of course,” Marucha said. “Or they can come shopping, volunteer, or bring items to ship or join. The community has been very generous with us.
What your donation can do
$50: Provides a new winter coat and hat to keep a child warm.
$100: Pays for basic school items such as new adapted shoes, new socks and underwear, a pair of jeans and a shirt.
$150: Enough for a week of new clothes to send a child to school confidently dressed and ready to learn.
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