EVERETT — Several young children hold white plastic bags full of clothing as they wait for their school bus outside of the Assistance League of Everett thrift shop.
About 160 youngsters visit the building every week to pick out new wardrobes at no cost to their families.
The program, called Operation School Bell, is one of many put on by the nonprofit organization on Evergreen Way.
Each year, the local chapter brings in almost $1 million through thrift shop sales, fundraisers and donations. That money then goes to children and families in Snohomish County, and some is put toward college scholarships. The Assistance League of Everett is run by about 300 workers who are all volunteers.
The Assistance League is a national organization that was founded in 1919 in California.
The Everett chapter started in 1965 with a location on Hewitt Avenue. Its longest-standing member is Mary Elaine Burgess, who started to volunteer in 1968.
The group moved south in 2003, when what is now Angel of the Winds Arena was built.
So far, the Assistance League of Everett has served more than 100,000 students in the area through Operation School Bell. It’s one of the group’s main programs.
Schools pick which students to go, usually based on whose family income qualifies for free and reduced lunches. They visit once a year between September and February.
Each child receives three outfits, a winter coat, shoes, socks and underwear, a hat and gloves, plus a grooming kit. They also get to choose a book on their way out.
Research has shown that children do better in school and have higher self-esteem when they have clean, well-fitting clothes, member Eileen Tietze said.
“I think it’s important, at least to me it is important, to realize that it’s not just a kid here and a kid there,” Tietze said. “We make a difference for the whole community.”
The organization also helps teenagers graduating high school.
It hosts a few ceremonies for some of the county’s alternative high schools, and also helps out families who can’t afford all the costs.
They contribute to graduation gowns, senior photos, yearbooks, tickets and prom expenses. Last year they gave to about 180 students.
Chapter president Sally Joy believes graduation is one of the most special times of the year for the organization.
“Those students have worked hard to get that one thing — a diploma,” she said. “To receive an award, it doesn’t matter that it’s to pay for their graduation expenses, it’s an award that they actually got and they are being honored with that, and it’s very important.”
The Assistance League assists adults in a few ways as well.
They provide Everett Community College scholarships, open to all students. They also partner with Housing Hope to provide people with basic household needs, such as bedding and kitchen supplies.
Volunteering isn’t limited to adults. Teenagers can sign up, too. The younger generation helps with fundraising, and works one Saturday shift a month at the thrift shop to gain job experience.
In the thrift shop’s display window a couple of weeks ago, a maroon and cream colored piano accordion priced at $300 sat near some more common items, such as jewelry, glassware and clothing.
Inside, shoppers browsed through rows of clothes and tables filled with holiday decorations. Volunteers organized in the back room — some sorted clothes and others priced silver to be moved out front.
In another room away from the store, children who had just picked out new clothes played with one another. Some kept on their brand-new shoes.
How to help
The Assistance League of Everett thrift shop is open 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday, at 5107 Evergreen Way. Proceeds go to children and families who live in Snohomish County. Donate items to the store between 9:30 a.m. and 4 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday.
Learn more about becoming a volunteer and making donations online at www.assistanceleague.org/everett.