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Assistance League San Jose: Operation School Bell

by Staff Writer / San Jose Sharks

Over the past several years, school uniforms, once a distinctive mark of private schooling, have been slowly integrated into the public school system. While this trend comes as a delight to some and a chagrin to others, Assistance League of San Jose has quickly jumped to relieve one of the biggest hurdles of school uniforms; the cost to families.

According to Assistance League, a national nonprofit and a 2011-12 Sharks Foundation Grant Recipient, this problem dates back to the 1950s, when a teacher in Los Angeles noticed a family sending just one child to school each day due to their inability to afford a full set of clothes for each family member. The teacher took action, asking families at the school to lend their support to the students. As a result, Operation School Bell was formed and has grown to accommodate the changing needs of families over the years.

The San Jose chapter of Operation School Bell began in 1993. That year, Assistance League volunteers provided 50 students with school uniforms. Today, 26 schools are enrolled in the program and over 2,000 students are served. By eliminating the cost of uniforms, the positive aspects of uniforms are maximized, which include safety, appropriateness, convenience and a sense of community.

The process of ensuring that a child receives properly fitting uniform is no easy task. Assistance League volunteers, many of whom are retired teachers, visit participating schools to measure each child. After the measurements are recorded and tallied, volunteers gather all the necessary uniforms from their warehouse. That very afternoon, the students receive their uniform, which include two shirts and two pairs of pants.

Through various forms of funding, Assistance League operates with very little overhead costs. The staff and board members participate on a volunteer basis and supplies and storage are provided by donors, in kind donations, grants and fundraising. In addition to Operation School Bell, Assistance League also hosts seven other programs that impact preschool children to senior citizens. Visit for more information regarding these programs and how to become involved.

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