Assistance League dresses students for success

Nonprofit that provides new clothes for needy kids needs more volunteers
By Nicholas Johnson | Sep 13, 2017
Photo by: Nicholas Johnson Corrie Ernsdorff of Mukilteo sorts through donated clothes for the thrift shop along with Dale Moser of Mill Creek on Monday morning, Sept. 11, at the Assistance League of Everett at 5107 Evergreen Way. Ernsdorff said she’s been volunteering for the past four years.

As students return to school this month, an all-volunteer nonprofit in Everett is ramping up for its 52nd year of providing new clothes at no cost to those in need.

Last year, the Assistance League of Everett clothed some 4,782 students from 15 school districts throughout Snohomish County and Camano Island, all through its Operation School Bell program.

This year, the nonprofit expects to help just as many, if not more.

“Each year, we have been able to increase the number of students we clothe, but the need has been growing more rapidly than we have,” said Carla Hogan, this year’s elected president of the nonprofit.

Students from preschool through high school are referred by personnel from their respective schools and then transported to the facility. Those students must be eligible for the state’s free and reduced-price lunch program.

Beginning Wednesday, Sept. 20, as many as 60 students per day will begin arriving at the nonprofit’s facility at 5107 Evergreen Way in Everett, where volunteers serve as personal shoppers helping students pick out three new school outfits (shirts and pants), a sweatshirt, a week’s supply of underwear and socks, a winter jacket, hat, gloves, scarf and a grooming kit.

“We try to serve as many children as possible before the December break so they have warm winter coats and gloves,” Hogan said, noting that the grooming kits, which include a toothbrush, toothpaste, floss, shampoo, deodorant and a hair comb, are particularly meaningful to many students who aren’t used to having such basics.

“Some of the kids look at that grooming kit and go, ‘My own toothbrush,” because they didn’t have that. You realize how needy so many of our students really are.”

In the majority of instances, students are also provided a voucher to purchase a pair of shoes through Payless Shoes. High school students are invited to shop in the early evenings at a local Fred Meyer store through the Teen Retail Program of Assistance League.

“We have received many gifts and grants, which go directly toward the purchase of students’ clothing,” longtime volunteer Rick Dorsey said. “It takes approximately $100 to purchase clothing for each student. Because we are able to purchase wholesale through nationwide sourcing, and work with some generous vendors, each student is really receiving the equivalent of $250 worth of clothing.”

The nonprofit purchases new clothes for students with proceeds from its thrift shop, which is located at the same facility. The shop is open six days a week, from 9:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Monday to Saturday. Last year, proceeds from the shop generated more than 50 percent of the nonprofit’s revenue.

“Our inventory is constantly changing, so you have stop in each week to see what’s new,” Hogan said, who said many people don’t realize the nonprofit operates a thrift shop.

On June 17, a major flood in the building from a broken valve caused significant damage, especially to the Operation School Bell area.

“Fortunately, the thrift shop was not damaged in the flood,” Hogan said. “But we did lose six days of business, primarily because we didn’t have power in the building for that time.”

With several weeks of restoration work, and countless volunteer hours, the whole building is now back in operation. Each day, volunteers are busy sorting donated items for the thrift shop or preparing new clothes for students to peruse during their visits.

Last year, volunteers donated nearly 80,000 hours of service at an estimated value of just less than $2 million. The nonprofit, however, is always in need of more volunteers, Hogan said.

“We have a lot of dedicated and hard-working volunteers, but we could always use more,” she said. “The perception is that this is for retired people, but anyone can come in and lend hand.”

Hogan, a Mukilteo resident for the past 18 years, began volunteering in 2013 as she was preparing to retire from Shoreline Community College, where she was a professor of accounting in the business department for 28 years. She said she got involved because she knows firsthand how students struggle when lacking for clothing, food or adequate shelter.

“I feel strongly about the idea of providing a wardrobe for children in need,” she said. “It builds their self esteem, and they need that to perform well in school. Having been a professor, that is extremely important to me.

“Homelessness, food insecurity and not having good clothes – all those things really make it extremely difficult for students to focus in school and learn the basics.”

Hogan’s top goal this year is to increase awareness of Operation School Bell and ways to support it. Aside from the thrift store, revenues also come from grants, estate sales and annual Holiday Home Tour, which this year is destined for Mukilteo and Everett.

Now in its fifth consecutive year, this year’s tour, set for Dec. 4, will feature six well-decorated homes, each with a local chef on hand preparing tasty treats for visitors. Advance tickets for $30 go on sale Nov. 1.

Hogan said she’s excited for another year of clothing students and hopes the community will join her in that mission, whether by volunteering or shopping at the thrift store. For her part, she expects to be involved for years to come.

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