Target store employees always want to see shoppers in the store, but you can’t fault them for having some warm fuzzies on Operation School Bell night.
The event, which is organized by the Assistance League in Bellingham, helps provide low-income elementary and middle school children with new clothes and shoes. The latest Operation School Bell night took place Thursday, Dec. 3, at the Bellis Fair Target store and had about 150 students. They were given an $80 clothing voucher and a $30 Payless shoe voucher to shop with their families for much-needed items. The Target store sets aside a few cash registers just for these shoppers to make sure they got what they wanted, said Tracy Long, the store team leader.
“It’s like Christmas for them,” said Long, referring to the excitement he sees during the event. “It’s really nice to watch.”
Operation School Bell began in Bellingham in 1995 to provide clothing to children who attended Alderwood Elementary School. It’s grown over the years to include eight school districts in Whatcom County. This year through several of these Operation School Bell nights. the Assistance League has provided clothing for 1,500 students. League volunteers manage the check-in, shopping experience and checkout of the students.
When Target was first approached about hosting Operation School Bell, Long said the company was concerned about whether the store could handle it; some of the nights have more than 200 students.
“For us, it’s just like preparing for Black Friday,” said Long, who added that it’s the “amazing” work of the volunteers that makes it go smoothly.
Operation School Bell cost $170,902 this year, much of which is funded through the Assistance League’s thrift store at 2817 Meridian St., fundraising and grants.
Operation School Bell also recently expanded to include a voucher program called Teen Team for homeless high school students. So far, about 25 vouchers worth $125 each have been given out to be redeemed at the Lakeway Fred Meyer store, said Nanci Zander, Teen Team program chair.
Details about the Bellingham Assistance League can be found at assistanceleaguebellingham.org.