A September Friday was like Christmas morning at Holly McCane’s house. Her three children had been talking about the day for weeks. They were jumping around all morning in anticipation of new gifts.
All three got to “go shopping” for brand-new clothing. Not a typical back-to-school activity for this family.
“I’m a single mom and I just can’t give this to my kids,” McCane said.
But the volunteers at the Assistance League of Boise can.
Operation School Bell, an Assistance League program, outfits thousands of Ada County children with new clothes, including winter coats, stylish jeans and underwear.
“This is helping out so much,” McCane said. “This is fun for my kids. It’s really special.”
A busload of children from Boise’s Hillcrest Elementary School spent two hours at the Assistance League warehouse on Glenwood Boulevard. Each child got a bagful that included a new book, shirts, pants, underwear, socks, gloves, a coat and a gift card for new shoes. Hundreds of knitted hats were handmade by volunteers and donated to this annual event.
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“This is an opportunity that many of these kids just don’t get,” said school counselor Laura Adams. “There is a real need.”
Every elementary school in Kuna, Boise and Meridian gets the opportunity to dress their needy children in new school clothes.
Two busloads of children a day pull into the Assistance League now through Thanksgiving. At least 10 volunteers are needed to walk hand-in-hand with a child to help them find items that fit, while still allowing the children to pick out colors and prints they like.
“I’m so excited about the new stretchy, fashionable jeans we have this year,” said Elen Hunt of the Assistance League. “We also were able to special order jeans that can be adjusted at the waist.”
The volunteers dress 65 to 90 children a day. They will eventually outfit nearly 4,000 children.
“We’re limited by time, volunteers and space,” Hunt said. “We aren’t limited by need.”
The Assistance League purchases the new clothing and stocks hundreds of shelves in the summer to prepare for the fall, when low-income families don’t have money for new school clothes or winter gear.
The money for the new clothing largely comes from The Thrift Shop, a store where used and donated items are cleaned and displayed for resale. The Thrift Shop is the main source of funding for six philanthropic programs.
“When someone buys a four-dollar shirt in the Thrift Shop I think about how that buys a new T-shirt for a child,” Hunt said.
For Holly McCane’s daughter, Caitlin, it was a new winter coat. Her only coat is too small this year. For her boys, Jadyn and Ethan, it was new pants and a Boise State shirt.
“Coats are expensive,” McCane said. “I’m not sure what I would have been able to do.”