Assistance League makes back-to-school a good time for low-income students

Assistance League of the Eastside president Chrissy Brackett was out of breath but all smiles at a recent Fred Meyer shopping event in Bellevue.

Assistance League of the Eastside president Chrissy Brackett was out of breath but all smiles at a recent Fred Meyer shopping event in Bellevue.

Brackett, president of the Assistance League of the Eastside, had spent a busy half hour greeting nearly 100 students and their parents, handing out event bracelets and explaining instructions for the annual signature event known as Operation School Bell. The program provides more than 2,700 low-income and homeless students in the Bellevue, Lake Washington and Northshore school districts with back-to-school clothing.

“It can be hectic at times, but it’s a true joy to see the excitement of the kids when they come here and shop for school clothes,” Brackett said. “It’s something they wouldn’t usually get to do and it makes a world of difference.”

Each year, elementary and junior high students are selected for the Operation School Bell program by their school counselors and nurses. Each student is given an allotted amount of money, from $100 to $125 each, to shop for clothing and shoes for the new school year.

The students are restricted to buying school clothing and shoes, but are allowed to budget in a new pair of pajamas and undergarments if needed.

“Imagine being a second grader and going to a sleepover without a decent pair of pajamas to wear. That could be really devastating,” said Mavis Goetsch, a League member since 2003. “Kids shouldn’t have to worry about things like that. Allowing these kids to buy new clothing helps to put them on the same playing field as all the other kids. It builds confidence and allows them to focus on learning.”

Since 1992, Assistance League of the Eastside has clothed over 23,000 students in the three school districts. The organization holds fundraising events including an annual Benefit Luncheon and the Holiday Home Tours to raise money for the Operation School Bell program. To date, the organization has contributed over $2.2 million back into the community through Operation School Bell.

A designated area was set up by Bellevue Fred Meyer for the private shopping event. Volunteers wearing blue Assistance League aprons walked around the clothing department with scanners and calculators to help parents budget accordingly. For the first time this year, Fred Meyer opened up their registers at the back of the store for a private checkout area.

“Fred Meyer has been a wonderful partner in this whole process,” Brackett said. “We are very thankful for everything they have done to help us serve our community.”

At checkout, the students were given a hand-knitted scarf or hat made by volunteers from the Redmond Senior Center and other community members. The students were also given a free oral hygiene kit donated by Bellevue Dentist Dr Mark DiRe. The kits included a toothbrush, floss and sugarless gum.

“There was one year that I overheard a little boy tell his mom that he would no longer need to share a toothbrush because he had his own now,” Brackett explained. “To see his excitement over such a small thing was really eye opening.”

The Assistance League of the Eastside will hold a total of 21 Operation School Bell Shopping Nights this year at Fred Meyer stores in Bellevue, Kirkland/Totem Lake and Redmond.

Lindsay Larin can be reached at 425-453-4602.

For more information about Assistance League of the Eastside and Operation School Bell, visit or call 425-556-5106.