CINCINNATI ENQUIRER STAFF WRITER
Back-to-school time is almost synonymous with cool new outfits for many kids, but returning to school in worn, tattered clothing can embarrass children whose parents can't afford new clothes.
That's why the Assistance League of Greater Cincinnati has participated for about a decade in Operation School Bell, a philanthropic project to provide new uniforms, shoes, socks, underwear, school supplies and hygiene kits for public and parochial students in Greater Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky.
Dozens of students from Winton Hills Academy in Winton Place filed into the Assistance League offices in Bond Hill Wednesday to try on shoes, fleece jackets and get measured for other clothing.
"Our volunteers have a generous heart," said Assistance League past president Audrey Stehle, a Mount Lookout volunteer. "It makes me feel wonderful to see the joy you share with a child. Some of these children have never even had new shoes."
About 1,300 area children will benefit this year from Operation School Bell, which continues through Oct. 5, Stehle said. Primary support comes from the Charles H. Dater Foundation.
The program began with a Los Angeles teacher who saw children from one family coming to school on a rotation based on whose turn it was to wear the school clothes that day. The teacher started a program to donate clothes to poor children.
An organization called the Volunteer Service Guild later was established to help provide clothes for children whose parents couldn't afford them. In 1958, the guild became a chapter of Assistance League and took the project name Operation School Bell.
In 1997, Assistance League chapters across the nation took on the program as its philanthropic project. More than a million children have been helped.
Fourth-grader Kendell Smith, 10, was one of the students trying on new clothes at the Assistance League of Greater Cincinnati on Wednesday and said he enjoyed the field trip. After being measured by volunteer Ginger Scheer of Hyde Park, Kendell tried on a blue fleece jacket.
"How does that feel?" Scheer asked him.
"Warm and cozy," Kendell said, zipping up the coat to his neck.
Classmate Jamesha Derrickson, 9, also tried on new clothes and a fleece jacket that she would take home.
"It feels good," she said as Stehle rubbed the fleece on her check. "Not itchy like sweaters."
Stehle said 18 volunteers turned out to help measure and outfit the children Wednesday. "We all love what we do," she said. "We are committed to the women and children we serve."