Operation School Bell distributes clothing to need kids

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Shelly Smith,7, holds up a pink shirt she got from Operation School Bell, a program run by the Assistance League of the Triangle area.

Pink is Shelly Smith’s favorite color.

It’s also the color of the new scarf, T-shirt and New Balance sneakers she pulled out of a brown paper bag more than half her height.

“I like them,” said 7-year-old Shelly. “This’ll be an outfit.”

Shelly was one of about 75 Central Elementary School students to receive her share of nearly $8,000 in clothes from the Assistance League Triangle Area’s Operation School Bell project Tuesday afternoon.

Volunteers from the league and Shoe Carnival were on hand to distribute the bags — filled with items ranging from underwear to sweatshirts — to low-income students.

“We like to see the kids smile,” said Shelley Stirling, league chairwoman of the project. “There is a huge need.”

This is the second year the league has worked with Central, which is the only school in the county to benefit from the nationally organized program so far, Stirling said.

“We talked to the superintendent and said, ‘Do you have a school out there that you think might benefit from our program?’

“He talked with some of the principals, and he said, ‘We think Central would be a great place to start,’ and so that’s why we’re here.”

Stirling said the league, composed of about 75 volunteers, raised as much as $70,000 to buy new clothes for 10 schools in Durham, Wake and Orange counties.

The league has a thrift shop in Raleigh — Antiques to Zippers Resale — that supports its programs. Also, the group uses funds and grants as well as a marketing campaign to raise money each year, Stirling said.

Vickie Mebane, Central’s family specialist social worker, said the children were chosen based on referrals from teachers and their qualification for the free or reduced lunch program.

Students are randomly selected based on the number of the school’s children the league can serve.

“We usually write their names down and put them in a container or something, and we just shake them up and draw, shake them up and draw, until we reach the number that we have,” Mebane said.

“The assistance league is also nice enough that if we have some left over that are really in need, they would give us extras.”

Jennifer Diaz, 6, tried on her pair of sneakers before she left the cafeteria toting her bag of clothes.

“They’re good,” said Jennifer, who explained that she liked her new shoes because they have a Velcro strap like her current pair.

Jennifer Hazlett, general manager of Shoe Carnival’s Durham location, and two volunteers from the company’s Cary store were available to make sure the shoes fit and note any size changes.

Hazlett said Shoe Carnival sells the pairs of shoes individually at sale price without tax. The company has been involved with the national campaign for about seven years, and the Durham location has been helping the area program for the last three or four years, she said.

“Shoe Carnival’s really big on community outreach,” said Hazlett, “so we just try and get together several projects that are community-bound.”

Shoe Carnival volunteer Ricky Ziegelmeyer said he got involved after Hazlett approached him about the opportunity.

“I heard what it was about, and I was all for it,” he said. “I love it.”

Contact the City Editor at citydesk@unc.edu.

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