For children, it is important to fit in and to dress like their classmates. In many homes where parents are struggling financially, it is hard for them to buy food, much less stylish clothing for their children.Now, parents have a little less to worry about thanks to Operation School Bell, sponsored by the Assistance League of Temecula Valley. The program outfits children in new clothing that costs parents nothing."They get three complete outfits, including three sets of jeans, tops, a jacket, six pairs of socks, underwear, backpacks and a hygiene kit with a brush, comb and toothbrush. They also get a notebook and pencil," said Caren Woods, president of the league.This year so far, Operation School Bell has clothed 1,450 children from Temecula, Murrieta, Lake Elsinore and Menifee."We started in 1990 with 33 children. In 2002 we clothed 1,419. We started focusing on kindergarten through middle school but we’ve expanded to Head Start children down to three and four years old," Woods said."The number increases every year," she continued. "We get referrals at the health office for each of the school districts. They know when they have children in a needy situation."Money for Operation School Bell is raised by the league’s Castaways Thrift Store at 28720 Via Montezuma in Temecula."All the items are donated," Woods said. "We resell them and buy brand new clothing for Operation School Bell."The meetings with their clients are confidential at Castaways."We have a side entrance in the facility. Families are given appointments. They come in for fittings three days a week," said Advertisement
[ Berry-Bell and Hall Mortuary ] Woods. "This summer, we spent remodeling the room. It has a private waiting area. It has its own restroom. People are treated with respect and confidentiality."One way to identify needy children is to see if they qualify for the Federal Free Lunch Program, which automatically qualifies them for Operation School Bell.The parents are grateful."We’ve had some fathers on disability come and volunteer to sweep the parking lot or empty the trash to pay us back for the clothing," Woods said.All of the volunteers have had their hearts warmed by being able to help out children who are so excited about their new clothing."Sometimes they will say, ‘This is the first new dress I’ve ever had,’" she said."We consider Castaways a philanthropic project as well. It’s benefiting a group of people who can’t afford to shop retail. We sell housewares, furniture, clothing and automotive."The younger set of the Assistance League call themselves "Assisteens." They concentrate on buying new books for needy children, calling their project "Operation Book Worm."The Assistance League also supports Operation Smile, which provides emergency dental care to needy students."We now have dentists who will work with us at a reduced rate or provide care for free. Sometimes they will do x-rays and let the parents know what kind of problems might be down the road for them," Woods said. "We need to expand that. So many of them fall through cracks. So many have no medical and no dental insurance."More information about Operation School Bell is available by calling the Assistance League at (951) 694-8018.