KANSAS CITY, Mo. — On an early Monday morning, 25 elementary students make their way off a bus, into Operation School Bell, a program that’s part of Assistance League of Kansas City.
“I mean as soon as you walk in they say, ‘This is the best place ever,’ so it’s great,” School Counselor, Heather Schuller said.
While some students sit in the waiting room waiting for their turn, others get ready to shop with their own personal shopper, who are volunteers with Assistance League of Kansas City and pick out a number of different items.
“Each child gets two pairs of pants, three cotton tops, one warm top, one package of socks, one package of underwear, a health kit and a pair of gloves and a hat,” Co-chairwoman of Assistance League, Traci Bertz said. “And we also have scarves and then they get one reading book.”
All of the items are free for students.
“We do have a lot of underserved children here in the school districts and the counselors are able to provide those families with just a little bit of extra assistance,” Bertz said. “Some of them have never been shopping before and it just gives them a boost of confidence and it makes them help to fit in, and we just see their faces light up.”
Schuller said it gives her students a boost of confidence they sometimes don’t get.
“Given the state of our economy now and given the struggles that some of our parents have, it’s hard to get brand new clothes,” she said. “Our kids are the most important things that we have right? And so we have to build them up and the smallest things like brand new clothes do that.”
Schuller, who’s been coming to Operation School Bell with students for the past 10 years, says the need has grown.
“When I first started, we were only bringing about 20 kids. And so we’d do two sessions, 10 each,” Schuller said. “But our need has grown to 50 and so each session is 25 and 25, so it’s definitely grown.”
According to the Assistance League, the number of children they served for the 2020-21 school year was 9,455 K-12 students.
Sixty elementary schools in eight different school districts are serviced through Operation School Bell. They also supplied uniforms to three charter schools and elementary schools in the Kansas City, Missouri, Public Schools district, and the plan is to do the same this school year.
Personal shoppers say it’s one of the best experiences working with children to pick out their best outfits.
“We want them to have a lot of options so that they feel like they’re in a real store,” volunteer Barbara Reynaud said. “That’s why we leave the tags on. We want them to know they’re new and they’ve been bought just for them.”
Reynaud says she never gets tired of seeing the excitement on the students’ faces.
“It feels wonderful and it feels like I’m making a difference and that’s important to me, to make a difference to those kids,” she said.
Operation School Bell opened its doors for this school year on Sept. 21.
Since then, they’ve hosted clothing sessions twice daily, Monday through Friday. However, due to COVID-19, not all sessions were in person with students. Some districts decided to send information for their students to the program, and school counselors came in and selected items.
Right now, the program is looking for volunteers and funding. If you’d like to be a personal shopper for the program or learn about ways to help, check out Assistance League’s website.