At tables set up in the clothing department, volunteers from the Assistance League of Everett await the arrival of Everett High School students, who are set to do some shopping there.
Each year, the 300-member Assistance League, through its Operation School Bell program, provides new clothes for nearly 4,000 students in 14 school districts in Snohomish County. The program has been providing school outfits for kids from low-income families since 1965. A partnership with Fred Meyer stores in Everett, Snohomish, Monroe and Marysville allows some 800 high school students do their own shopping.
On this particular evening, about 60 Everett teens, many accompanied by a parent, show up to pick out $125 worth of new clothing each. Funding is provided primarily by the Assistance League, with discounts given by Fred Meyer.
The students browse the racks, casually shopping for jeans and other clothes they want to wear to school.
Sophomore Ric Stewart, 15, towers over his mom, Danielle, as they walk the aisles.
In the shopping basket, Ric has piled a sweater, jeans, T-shirts, socks and shoes. It's all good stuff that he would normally wear, he says.
"This program is a really nice way to help families such as ours who are going through tough situations," Ric said. "It's a great way to get some clothes that fit and that you are comfortable wearing."
His mother agrees.
"It's an amazing program for families down on their luck," Danielle Stewart said.
Student names are submitted by school counselors, teachers and nurses to the Assistance League, which then invites the students to participate in the clothing program.
Amy Knutson is one of the Assistance League volunteers helping students make sure they get what they need. A 1974 graduate of Mariner High School, Knutson joined the nonprofit Assistance League because the all-volunteer group makes good use of its resources -- whether it's volunteer time, donations or money raised, she said.
"I especially like working with these kids," Knutson said. "They all are so nice and so grateful."
The Assistance League thrift shop on Evergreen Way is the primary fundraising arm of the Assistance League, which also awards scholarships to Everett Community College students, gives help to high school seniors with graduation expenses and offers vocational training and family assistance. The league's primary philanthropic program, however, is Operation School Bell.
On this recent evening, friends Thomas Sams, 16, and Sean Campey, 17, fill a cart under the watchful eye of Sean's mom, Brandi Campey.
Sean has picked out four pair of jeans. Thomas has socks and shirts.
"This is a wonderful opportunity for kids who don't have much money to get new clothes," Sean said.
"Yeah, and, like, these are good clothes," Thomas said.
Brandi Campey appreciates that the clothing program helps teens who might be concerned about fitting in at school.
"Assistance League makes sure the kids are confident and comfortable," she said.
Most students served by Operation School Bell come into the league's warehouse behind its thrift store, said Margaret Bright, president-elect of the league. Set up like a department store, the Operation School Bell shop stocks new clothing for most ages.
"But it's tough for teenagers to leave their high school classes to come in and pick out clothing. So shopping at Fred Meyer is more convenient for most," said Bright, a retired Everett teacher.
Bright recalls a couple stories about teens who shopped last year.
"We had three children of a laid-off construction worker. Can you imagine worrying about buying clothes for three teenagers? They were so excited," Bright said. "Another time there was a straight-A student whose parents were dealing with drug addiction. She came in with a frown and left with a smile. That smile is why we do this."
Gale Fiege: 425-339-3427; email@example.com.
How to help
To donate to Operation School Bell, mail checks made payable to:
Assistance League of Everett, P.O. Box 3825, Everett, WA 98213-8825, or go online to www.assistanceleagueofeverett.org.
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