For thousands of local kids, back to school shopping just doesn't happen.
For families struggling to put food on the table, buying new clothes is a luxury they can't afford.
That's when the Assistance League of Greater Portland comes in.
Its program Operation School Bell is the latest recipient of the FOX 12-Les Schwab Be the Change award.
For volunteers with the effort, back to school means back to work.
They have a lot to do, if they want to achieve their goal of sending thousands of local kids off to school in brand new clothes.
Audra Scott, who’s with the Beaverton School District, says as the district’s homeless population grows, these volunteers have stepped up to make sure many of the neediest children start the school year with everything from clothes and shoes to socks and underwear.
“Their generosity over the years has just been phenomenal. It's just amazing what they do for our school district and the children that attend the Beaverton school district,” Scott said.
Since 1998, the Operation School Bell program has helped more than 28,000 kids in the Beaverton, Hillsboro and Portland school districts.
Michele Wiitala, a buyer for Operation School Bell, told FOX 12 it’s all about the kids and their experiences. "We try to provide for them a true shopping experience, because a lot of our clientele, this is the first time they've gotten anything new. So it's like the most magical shopping trip they've ever been on,” she said.
Wiitala is responsible for keeping up with the trends, and deciding which clothes the kids get to choose from when they come for their shopping days.
Parents wait in the lobby, while their kids get the final say on everything -- a sense of empowerment many of these children have never experienced.
Wiitala said the impact can be seen immediately.
“They are bouncing and they are skipping and there's this sense of pride and joy that I'm gonna look like the other kids now. I have new things for school, too,” Wiitala explained.
For volunteers like Allison Mudrick, those are the moments that make all the difference.
"The look on their faces, the smiles, have no price,” said Mudrick, who shares the goal of operation school bell is actually pretty simple: "to make sure no child wears poverty to school, and we only touch the tip of the iceberg.”
In addition to the clothes, all of the children also get gift cards to buy new shoes.
Each child involved in the program is specifically chosen by their school counselors.
Learn more about Operation School Bell on its website.
To nominate a person or group deserving of the Be the Change award, please go to KPTV.com/BeTheChange.
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