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Operation School Bell is about to ring; Program has been helping clothe local kids for over 50 years

Standing proudly with new school clothes, a hygiene kit, books and a voucher for new shoes, Jesus Altamirano said that he chose the book “How Things Work in the House” because he wants to learn how to fix more things in the house. The Assistance League of Chaves County's Operation School Bell clothes children fin elementary and middle school from August through April. (Submitted Photo)

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The Assistance League of Chaves County has been running Operation School Bell since the 1950s. Brenda Gottlieb is the chairman of Operation School Bell.

“We’re going to start our first shift next week,” Gottlieb said. “Last year, we dressed 647 kids from all of Chaves County. We provide clothing for children in the Roswell school system, Lake Arthur, Dexter and Hagerman. We dress students from elementary school and middle school.”
The program is well organized and well thought out.
“We’re proud of what we’re able to offer,” Gottlieb said. “We offer uniforms as well as regular clothing. For students who don’t need school uniforms we provide jeans and T-shirts. Every child receives two pairs of pants, three shirts, a jacket, a package of socks, a package of underwear and a hygiene kit which includes a variety of different toiletry items. They receive a book and also they receive a $25 gift card to buy shoes at Target.”
There are some misconceptions about Operation School Bell that Gottlieb hopes to put to rest.
“A lot of people think we just provide one outfit,” she said. “But our goal is to provide enough to get the child through a week of clothing for school. All of our items are brand new. Some people think that we take items from our thrift shop and give them to the kids, but that’s not true. All of us are volunteers and the money that we make at our thrift shop goes to provide funding to buy new items for the school children.”
The program works largely on referrals, but a family can apply without one if they wish.
“Families get a referral form from their school,” Gottlieb said. “It’s like an application process, but we don’t ask information like income level. We are basing it on recommendation from the school, so if the school verifies that they’re a family in need then they fill out the form and it gets mailed to a Post Office box and once I receive the applications then I schedule appointments and I either call the families or send a post card with an appointment time.”
Once Gottlieb has established contact, things move quickly.
“The families bring their children to the chapter house,” she said, “and we have them try the clothes on to make sure everything fits well. If they can’t make that appointment then they have my phone number to reschedule.”
They keep busy throughout the school year.

“We keep track of which schools we dress more children from,” Gottlieb said. “The majority of our students come in August and September. Naturally, they’re wanting to get their new clothing items at the beginning of the school year. We continue to dress throughout the school year, as families’ financial needs may change, or we get families from out of town. We can be there for them. We stop dressing the children in April since it’s almost the end of the school year.”
Gottlieb wants to encourage people who need help, and people who know of those in need, to reach out and help connect them with Operation School Bell.
“If families are aware of neighbors, family members or friends who could use help with school clothing assistance, we want them to be aware that they can apply for help,” Gottlieb said. “Sometimes, families go in and ask for an application at their school. Sometimes, I get calls or they’ll leave messages, so I think word is spreading. Based on the amount of items that they get it’s helpful for families who are struggling.
“The secretaries are the main contact for us, but counselors and principals and teachers know about us, too. We have some families that come back every school year, so they know that it’s OK to just go ahead and get a form.”
Gottlieb said that the majority of fundraising is from one source.
“We apply for grants,” she said, “We have memorial contributions, but the majority of our income comes through thrift shop proceeds.”
The Assistance League Thrift Store is at 100 N. Union Ave., and is open Tuesdays through Fridays from 9:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Beginning in the fall they’ll start opening on Saturday mornings, too.
“The community can help by shopping at the Thrift Shop,” she said. “That helps with the program. If they donate items that we can sell at the store that helps, too. The majority of our items are clothing, but we have furniture, household items, artwork, anything really. Cash donations are helpful. If someone is cleaning out their closet, donating those clothing items would be helpful.”
Features reporter Curtis M. Michaels can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 205, or at reporter04@rdrnews.com.

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