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Oyama students participate in Operation School Bell

Students of all grades laughed and joked in the lunch room at Oyama Elementary on Thursday, October 22, eagerly awaiting a school bus to come whisk them away. They weren't going home and it wasn't a field trip. Instead, the students had been selected to participate in Operation School Bell, which is run through the Assistance League of Tucson.

Operation School Bell is a program that provides brand new clothes and school supplies for students in need. The students, with help of a volunteer, are allowed to "shop" in a special room of the Assistance League that resembles a department store. There are shelves and racks of new shoes, socks, pants, shirts, jackets and even underwear. The room is split into sides by gender and each side is equipped with mirrors, chairs and changing rooms for the "shoppers."

"Operation School Bell is the signature program for our chapter and all 122 chapters [of Assistance League] throughout the United States," explained Assistance League member Linda Scalise. "We are fortunate enough to raise the funds and build the philanthropic program centers."

Across the parking lot from Operation School Bell is a thrift shop run by the Assistance League, where the majority of the funds for Operation School Bell are raised. However, none of the donations to the thrift shop make their way over to Operation School Bell. The volunteers make sure that all of the items given away to the students are brand new and not hand-me-downs.

"We've heard stories directly from the children that they're so excited they're getting shoes. Now they won't have to share with their brother or sister," recalled Ms. Scalise. She and other Assistance League members shared similar stories and statistics about how students with new clothing perform better in school since they aren't targeted by bullies and don't have to skip days when they share clothes with siblings.

"This is an awesome program," said Oyama School Community Liaison Lorena Salcido, who worked with the Assistance League to schedule the event for Oyama. "It's all at no cost, and they also provide funds for the school bus [to transport to the kids to the Assistance League], which is amazing."

In addition to the transportation and the goodies for the students, Oyama received 17 vouchers to JC Penney, each valued at over $100, that were handed out to families so that they could take their kids shopping for more needed supplies. Ms. Salcido said 17 more were promised to Oyama in December.

"This is a big deal," remarked Ms. Salcido. "It is an amazing feeling to see the children, the smiles on their faces… they're more than thankful; their gratitude is amazing. It's just overwhelming."

Operation School Bell serves schools in Amphitheater, Flowing Wells and Sunnyside in addition to Tucson Unified. They run multiple dressing days a month. For more information, check out their website at: