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Operation School Bell helping students in need with wardrobe assistance

Valley students in need of a new school wardrobe can get help from the people involved with Operation School Bell

PHOENIX — With the cost of inflation, back to school supply prices are steep this year. The National Retail Federation reports one-third of consumers said they’re cutting back in other areas of spending as a result. But for some families, there’s no room in their budget to make cuts. They’re just trying to survive basic bills.

Here in the Valley, there are incredible organizations like the Assistance League of Phoenix supporting these families. The Assistance League runs Operation School Bell. The program serves children in need with a new wardrobe at the start of every school year. This year, the need is greater than ever. 

While Valley students wait for their new clothes, volunteers are busy, gently sorting those items for thousands of them. The generous gifts will reach more than 130 Phoenix-area schools, Assistance League of Phoenix CEO, Aimee Runyon said. 

“Operation School bell provides new school wardrobes including clothing, shoes, hygiene items for some of our lowest income kids at title one schools,” Runyon said. She added they plan to serve 11,000 students this year. And Runyon estimated there are about 130,000 more Valley children who could use that same help.

“I've had children come up to me and be excited because now they have their very own tooth brush, and when you hear something like that you feel like, oh my gosh, this is in our community," Runyon said. "We’re not talking about a third world country. We’re talking about kids that live just down the road.”

Basil Ribakare is an ASU student whose parents are refugees from Rwanda. He knows just how much the brand new clothing and school supplies mean to families like his.

“It really did give me that boost of confidence I needed to really find myself feel more integrated with the community and feel more involved with my classmates as well," Ribakare said. 

Watching how hard his parents worked two jobs each while he grew up drove Basil and his brother to push through a rigorous Brophy College Prep education in a school very different from their home neighborhood.

“We did begin to understand both sides of two worlds, because at that time I can recall me and him would take two buses, wake up at 4:30am to catch a 5:00am bus to get to school at 7:00am so we weren’t late," Ribakare said. 

Now, Basil is giving back to the same community that wrapped its arms around his family for so many years.

“I’m interning with the Assistance League of Phoenix this summer,” Ribakare said. 

The experience is giving him the opportunity to share more than brand new clothing and supplies with Arizona children in need.

“I definitely tell them when you bring your clothes home, definitely go show your parents because your parents are the ones that are going to be really grateful just as you are," Ribakare said. 

The Assistance League said they hope to serve 15,000 students in the greater-Phoenix area by 2025. Non-profit CEO, Runyon, said she thinks they'll reach that goal sooner because of generous donors and volunteers.

There are opportunities to both volunteer time and make financial donations at the Assistance League of Phoenix. 

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