BAKERSFIELD, Calif. - There is nothing like the excitement of a new school year; kids excited to meet their new teachers see their friends and show off their new school clothes. But for thousands of students in Kern County, if it wasn't for Operation School Bell, they wouldn't have new clothes.
Operation School Bell is the signature philanthropic program of the Assistance League of Bakersfield. Last year alone, the program provided new clothes and school supplies to over 3,000 underserved children in Kern County, according to Assistance League President Pat Davis.
"We work with specific schools and these schools identify the students who are in need of our services," said Davis.
From August until November, the referred students visit the Assistance League on Q St. Volunteers work with each child to fit them for three new shirts, two pairs of pants, several sets of underwear and socks and a jacket. The children are also given a hygiene kit and new school supplies.
"It's great to get new clothes," said Evelyn Lomas, a sixth grader at Buttonwillow Elementary School.
Lomas and 50 other students from Buttonwillow were at the facility when our 23ABC cameras were there. Stewart Packard, the Superintendent/Principal of Buttonwillow Union School District said not only do the new clothes help the students and their families, it gives them confidence on campus.
"They're getting that little hand up to help them have a great start to the school year," said Packard. "We really appreciate Operation School Bell on what they're doing for the students in our community, which transfers out to the whole Buttonwillow community."
Operation School Bell currently works with 20 school districts in the county. It's a much larger operation now than it was in the 1950s when the program was started by Los Angeles based teacher Ruth Ann Montgomery.
Montgomery saw children coming to school on a rotating basis because they were sharing clothes, according to the Assistance League. When Montgomery and her family moved to Bakersfield, she started the program in 1958.
What started as a one-woman operation in Bakersfield has turned into a national effort with 120 chapters adopting Operation School Bell, according to the Assistance League.
In Bakersfield alone, more than 200 volunteers help make the program possible, said Davis. The experience is not only rewarding for the kids, but just as rewarding for the volunteers.
"It is one of the best things I've ever experienced," said volunteer Carolyn Evans. "For so many of them, it's the first time for them to have new clothes, and they just come in with big smiles on their faces and leave with bigger smiles."
The program is funded by the Assistance League's Bargain Box Thrift Shop on Q St. and the Chez Noel Holiday Home Tours. Davis said they currently have to turn away schools because they're at capacity. She said they would like to help more students but they have a limited amount of resources.
"We need money from the community. We need of course to continue to get the great donations we get from the community and we need to continue to get members volunteering to help us here," said Davis.
To find out more about how you can help Operation School Bell call the Assistance League at (661) 323-0838.