Assistance League of Eugene was founded in 1973 and chartered as the 62nd chapter of National Assistance League on April 27, 1978. Active volunteers of all ages have the opportunity to serve their community locally through chapter membership.
In 1980 a small office was rented at 1670 Oak Street. A move was made to the Oakway Mall in 1984 and another to Spencer Butte Middle School where Operation School Bell® was operating.
In 1991 Assistance League moved into the building at 1149 Willamette Street, currently the address of the thrift shop. Operation School Bell was also housed in this building at one time, but more room was needed for storage and filling clothing orders, so a second building at 32 Marion Lane was purchased in 1997. The new building housed Operation School Bell and provided space for a chapter office, board and committee meetings.
In 2012 the name of the thrift shop was changed from Gently Used Thrift Shop to Assistance League Thrift Shop. In June 2012, a fire occurred in an adjacent building that resulted in smoke damage to the thrift shop. In July the shop was broken into and vandalized. A major remodel of the shop was already in the planning stages before these events occurred and was implemented during the month of August of that year. A Grand Re-Opening Week celebrated its completion and began a year of record thrift shop sales.
In 2013-2014 Assistance League of Eugene celebrated its 40th anniversary with activities planned throughout that year.
Philanthropic Program History
The first program offered, Caring and Sharing, originated in 1973 with the name “Shopping à la Cart.” Member volunteers made weekly visits to selected nursing homes with a cart of personal items for purchase by the residents. The program was renamed Caring and Sharing in 1989. Member volunteers make monthly visits to three local assisted living or memory care facilities to provide musical entertainment and friendship.
The next program to be developed was Oregon Heritage. Originally called “Science in a Suitcase,” it was created in 1975 for elementary school children. It evolved to Oregon Heritage, a program of school tours about 19th century pioneer experiences on the Oregon Trail and early settlement in Lane County.
Operation School Bell was started in 1984 to provide new and used clothing to children from lower income families in Eugene School District 4J. Pleasant Hill School District was added in 1992 and Junction City School District in 1995. In 2001 the Serbu Campus of the Lane County Juvenile Justice Center, Lane School of the Lane Education Service District and Creswell School District were included. Bethel School District was added in 2003.
In its early years, School Bell asked parents to send measurements to member volunteers on the committee who would then select items of clothing for each child- socks, shirts, pants, underwear, jacket and dental health kit. This process didn’t give children much choice in the matter so in the fall of 2008, beginning with middle and high school students, Operation School Bell changed the format to what are now called Shopping Events. Children shopping with parents or caregivers choose their own clothes at participating Fred Meyer stores. As they shop, the children learn how best to budget their clothing allowance.
Elementary students were added in 2009. In 2008-9, service to school districts in the outlying areas of Lane County was discontinued. Service to high school students was discontinued in 2013-14. Serbu, a residential detention center, is still served by this program.
Operation Hug a Bear began in 1988 in cooperation with the Eugene Police Department. The program supplies small stuffed teddy bears for officers to give to children and others who need comfort because of stressful situations. In 1996 the program was expanded to include children at Marcola Safe Center/Jasper Mountain and, in 2003, Scar Jasper Mountain. Both agencies are now combined and known as The Safe Center. The program expanded to include American Red Cross, Ophelia’s Place, and Womenspace.
Welcome Basket became a chapter program in 2002. Working with the St. Vincent de Paul Transitional Housing programs, member volunteers provide a basket of household supplies, including a potted plant, to individuals and families who are served by three of these programs: the Connections Program for Families (2002), Vet-LIFT program for veterans (2012) and Supportive Services for Veteran Families (2013).
Operation Bookshelf began in 2006. Working in cooperation with staff at the Eugene Public Library, member volunteers deliver and return books, CDs and DVDs to homebound Eugene City residents who are unable to travel to the library for medical reasons. The first route established was to YaPoAh Terrace, a senior residence facility. Assistance League currently has four additional routes in Eugene.
The Pass It On program was added in 2014. It donates items that cannot be used by our philanthropic programs or sold in the thrift shop to other nonprofit social agencies.
Weekend Food Pantry Program began operation in October of 2014 to provide supplemental weekend food to children in economic need. Member volunteers purchase healthy food staple items for delivery to families in economic hardship to have enough food for the weekends. Food is packaged up on Friday and distributed after school hours to enrolled families.
Outreach Program is the newest addition to our nine programs. It was designed to provide solutions on an as-needed basis for specific community needs, such as emergencies, which cannot be served through the other chapter programs.
Books for Kids grew into its own program in 2016-17 after Outreach’s success delivering books to the families of the TANF program (Temporary Assistance to Needy Families) through their Family Coaches. So far books and activity books have been given to children from preschool age to age 8. In future, the hope is to expand the program to reach older children.