How do volunteers meet the challenge of providing fitted, new clothing when schools are closed?

Claudia Dooley, Assistance League of St. Louis member and Co-Chair of Operation School Bell® (OSB), reminisced about past years in which OSB volunteers took pride in being able to directly interact with the school children who visited our headquarters for uniform fittings and fun activities. Besides everyone being in high spirits, the team could take accurate measurements so that each child had fitted clothes that looked good. But that was the past, so the team leadership, also co-chaired by Kris Lewis, reviewed current processes, took what would work, dropped what didn’t and adapted so that they could continue fulfilling those objectives.
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The OSB team developed a process which included forms sent to school personnel; these were then passed along to parents who were responsible for measurements and noting any special needs. Schools would return the forms in batches via email. The forms were reviewed, fulfilled, bagged and delivered by ALSTL volunteer liaisons to the school for distribution.

If you’ve ever measured someone for a sewing project or tailoring, you’ll appreciate the challenge that the OSB volunteers had when interpreting the responses. Claudia smiled and stated that the team was fortunate to have a number of ladies who “were really good fitters” and able to work out the appropriate sizes. Their success was realized when it was noted that very few of the packages were returned requesting a different size. The fitters hit the mark the majority of the time, even without being able to physically measure the children themselves.

Each package is generously filled with two pairs of pants, three polo shirts, one fleece jacket, six each of socks and underwear, a toothbrush, toothpaste, hat and gloves, a belt and a grade-appropriate new book. That’s a lot of items to pack when serving over 1,500 students and 28 elementary schools. But again, the team went into action and continued to refine processes and develop new ones for organizing and scheduling the packing days. Being mindful of COVID rules when organizing how many volunteers could be present on a packing day, remaining masked and staying socially distanced meant finely tuned logistical work had to be done upfront to hit their goal of completing packages in one day. That goal was met every time.

Even under difficult circumstances, the team delivered over 28,000 items for students in 28 elementary schools and to stock closets in eight middle schools and 20 elementary schools. Closets are maintained to provide year-round clothing, shoes, coats and other necessities. In 2022, the OSB volunteers continue to take pride in their accomplishments knowing that COVID didn’t slow them down and hundreds of school children were warmly dressed this school season.