It takes a village and for 37 years, Assistance League of Indianapolis has been a part of that village. Helping Hoosier students in kindergarten through fifth grade get the clothes and shoes they need for school. Assistance League’s Operation School Bell® program has three division, Appeal, Shoes and Beyond the Bell
At the beginning of each school year, economically challenged students within Indianapolis Public Schools and school districts of Pike, Washington, Warren, and Lawrence townships receive new clothing, hygiene supplies and books all in duffel bags. Students in those districts as well as in the Metropolitan School District of Wayne Township receive new athletic shoes. Assistance League of Indianapolis donated 2,528 duffel bags at the beginning of the 2021 school year and 1,540 pairs of athletic shoes.
However, like most non-profit programs, Assistance League has been severely affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. Remote learning and teacher shortages made it difficult to connect with school social workers, and children learning from home did not need school clothing.
When students returned to the classroom, Assistance League member volunteers found an intensified need for support. Operation School Bell had to pivot when the program could no longer fit students in person due to COVID-19. The organization designed a Pack & Deliver method. To obtain students’ sizes, families complete a clothing request form and return to the Operation School Bell team via school personnel. Each child receives a duffel bag, winter coat, hat, gloves, six pairs of socks, six pairs of underwear, two polo shirts, one belt, two navy or khaki pants, skorts, jumpers, or jeans, hygiene items and two books through the Apparel Division.
“We get letters from kids saying, ‘Now nobody will make fun of me because I have the right clothes,’” Kathy Kerr Wylam, Vice President Marketing, said.
Deb Myers, who has volunteered with ALI for 12 years, said having the proper clothes to wear can help children succeed in school.
“In our impact surveys,” Myers said, “and the biggest response we got was that children were feeling better about themselves. When they do not have to worry about what they’re wearing, they can focus on their studies.”
The majority of Assistance League of Indianapolis funding comes from grants and contributions from local organizations, as well as fundraising events hosted by their 201 members, including its annual “Jingle and Mingle” holiday event and a charity golf outing every September. Assistance League President, Trish Severns credits the nonprofit’s success to community involvement and the dedication of its volunteers.
“We’re all mostly retired professional women, and people who volunteer here know they’re going to work,” Severns said. “We all want to be out here making a difference. … Everyone has a passion for it and works really hard.”