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Helping Students One Shirt At A Time

Photo Credit: Kamille Simmons | Operation School Bell's Wheels program goes to LAUSD schools to provide students with clothes and school supplies to instill confidence and encourage children to stay in school. The organization went to Harmony Elementary School in South Central Los Angeles on December 1. See story below.

Photo Credit: Kamille Simmons | Click here to hear from Harmony Elementary School's pyschiatric social worker.

Photo Credit: Kamille Simmons | Click here to hear from Operation School Bell's volunteers.

By Kamille Simmons

Students at Harmony Elementary School felt like Christmas came early when Operation School Bell, a volunteer organization that donates clothes and school supplies to children in need, visited their campus last Thursday.

Harmony is a school of about 800 students in South Central Los Angeles. In 2010, the school was about 93 percent Hispanic and 6 percent black. In an area where poverty pervades the community, there are 58 students at Harmony who are identified as homeless, and who cannot afford the uniforms they must wear to school.

That's where Operation School Bell comes in.

Operation School Bell is a national organization through which volunteers raise money to buy brand new school clothes, books, and shoes for students whose families cannot afford to buy these supplies themselves.

"I think it's really important because it's addressing some basic needs that these children aren't getting," said Lauren Maher, a psychiatric social worker at Harmony Elementary.

The organization's Assistance League of Southern California has a site in Hollywood where LAUSD counselors can take students to get their supplies. But Operation School Bell also has a "Wheels" program that takes these supplies to different schools to clothe up to 175 students per visit. The Wheels program sends a trailer full of clothes, shoes, school supplies, and volunteers to each of the eight districts in LAUSD twice per year; once in spring and once in fall.

Last Thursday, Harmony Elementary was the site for Operation School Bell. It was the second time in five years that Harmony had been the site for the organization according to Maher, who started working at Harmony five years ago.

"The kids are generally pretty excited about it," Maher said. "Today they were like 'it's like Christmas!'"

The children receive one pair of shoes, five pairs of socks, two pairs of pants, two polo shirts, a jacket, a belt, a backpack, toiletries, and a book--all of which are brand new.

In explaining the importance of what Operation School Bell's volunteers do, Suzanne Kahane, the chair of the organization's Hollywood facility mentioned the Annie E. Casey Foundation, and a study it did on how poverty affects high school graduation rates of students.

The study found that 22 percent of children who have lived in poverty do not graduate from high school. The study says lack of resources for food, clothing, and health care is often to blame for children in poor families' academic struggles.

Operation School Bell volunteers like Kahane say they hope they can curb those effects of poverty by helping students to meet some of their basic needs.

"Because they feel good, they look like their peers, they're not wearing their poverty, they feel much more confident," Kahane said. "They stay in school, they're comfortable in school."

Maher says that she has seen the confidence levels of students rise when they receive the supplies from the organization. She also said it makes the kids feel as if someone is looking out for them.

"They're so excited to have something new," Maher said. "I think that ties into them being better able to attend academically in the class; they feel more a part of the class and excited."

With the help of its volunteers and donations, Operation School Bell and its wheels will continue to visit LAUSD school sites in the spring, and hopefully help even more children gain the confidence they need to stay in school.