Operation School Bell rings in Fitzgerald Public Schools

By: Maria Allard | Warren Weekly | Published October 3, 2012

 Mound Park kindergarten student Ambrielle Snead turns toward the mirror and her friends to show off her new coat Assistance League member Kathy Bembas, right, of Rochester, helped her select.

Mound Park kindergarten student Ambrielle Snead turns toward the mirror and her friends to show off her new coat Assistance League member Kathy Bembas, right, of Rochester, helped her select.

Photo by David Schreiber


WARREN — On Sept. 27, the Neigebaur Building gymnasium inside Fitzgerald Public Schools resembled a department store.

Chic articles of clothing were hung on racks, personal hygiene items were displayed, and an array of new garments were placed neatly on shelves.

Last Thursday, the Assistance League of Southeastern Michigan brought its annual Operation School Bell program to children who attend Mound Park, Westview and Schofield elementary schools.

The 320 FPS students were chosen by school personnel and matched up with a league volunteer to shop for new clothes. The program is designed to help families that have fallen on hard times financially. All the outfits were brand-new.

Each child picked out two new shirts, a winter coat, gloves, a hat, one pair of jeans, underwear, socks, a book and a duffle bag in which to carry their stylish fashions. Every shopper also received a personal hygiene kit and a $15 gift card for Payless Shoes.

The original clothing tags were removed and replaced with tags of small, medium, large and extra large sizes. The shoppers checked out their new fashions via portable mirrors.

Carol Murphy, Jan Riggs and Marcie Krozier were this year’s co-chairs for Operation School Bell, which is a national program.

“It’s very rewarding,” Krozier said. “Seeing the children’s smiles on their faces.”

“It makes you feel good,” Riggs said.

Volunteers basically shop all year to prepare for the shopping excursion, generally held in the fall. None of the clothing is used.

“We’re always looking for the best prices. With the best prices, the more kids we can clothe,” Murphy said. “Everything is brand-new.” 

Members held Operation School Bell at five schools this fall, including two in Pontiac, one in Hamtramck and one in Detroit. In total about 1,900 students received new garments.

“We try to increase every year if we have the funding,” Murphy said.

Rosemary Dirksen and Barbara Donohoe were the school liaisons for FPS. They worked with school officials to handle permission slips and determine clothing sizes for the students. In past years, both have shopped with students.

“Generally, the kids come in and can’t believe what the gym looks like,” Dirksen said. “‘Do I get to keep this?’ they ask. Their getting to pick it out is one of the biggest thrills.”

Donohoe said the students are usually quiet at first, but then open up.

“They’re just all smiles,” Donohoe said. “They’re very grateful.”

The Assistance League of Southeastern Michigan, which has about 330 volunteers, has several charitable programs. The chapter was founded in 1993 and chartered as the 97th chapter of National Assistance League three years later. Buddy Bears, One-2-One Tutoring, Link To Creative Teaching and Wee Help are some of the other programs offered through the Assistance League. Volunteers also provide assault survivor kits, a shelter program and the Community Connection.

The nonprofit organization is funded in many ways, including tributes and memorials, the ReSale Connection, special fundraising events, individuals and corporate grants. The ReSale Connection, located at 204 S. Main Street in downtown Rochester, sells high quality merchandise and serves as the chapter’s main resource. Donations are welcome.

To make a contribution or for more information, call (248) 656-0414. Donations also can be mailed to The Assistance League of Southeastern Michigan, P.O. Box 80932 Rochester, MI 48308-0932. For further information, visit www.semich.assistanceleague.org.