Assistance League of Phoenix fills the void left by vicious cycle of poverty

Fiesta Bowl Charities funds Operation School Bell

A view of the Delivering the Dream Bus, which is sponsored by Fiesta Bowl Charities and The Assistance League of Phoenix. For many who participate, the Dream Bus offers a shopping experience like no other.
A view of the Delivering the Dream Bus, which is sponsored by Fiesta Bowl Charities and The Assistance League of Phoenix. For many who participate, the Dream Bus offers a shopping experience like no other.
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The children are our future.

The nice sentiment of future generations becoming the leaders of tomorrow oftentimes comes with the blood, sweat and tears of family members, school leaders --- and sometimes outreach efforts.

And, for the more than 50 years, the Assistance League of Phoenix has been there to provide for those in need and today partners with more than 90 Title 1 schools in the Phoenix metropolitan area.

Poverty, Assistance League of Phoenix officials say, knows no geographical boundary.

“For nearly 60 years, Assistance League of Phoenix has been serving those in need throughout our community through various programs that meet the distinct need of our community,” said Aimee Runyon, CEO at the Assistance League of Phoenix.

“As a volunteer-driven organization, we maximize every dollar raised to go into programs that bring school clothing to children living in poverty, books for Title I schools and the children they serve, teddy bears for first responders to give out to children in crisis, and layettes for babies born into poverty.”

At 9224 N. 5th Street in downtown Phoenix, the Assistance League of Phoenix, a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization, carries on the more than 100-year tradition of doing good in one’s local community.

The Assistance League was born in Los Angeles in 1894 by compassionate women who came together to make a difference.

“Our members, staff, and volunteers are deeply committed to helping children in our community. That commitment is visible in the number of volunteer hours, the dollars donated, and the amount of hard work put into making sure our programs can serve as many children and families as possible each year,” Ms. Runyon said of the Assistant League’s mission.

“Our programs also meet the needs of our community in the Greater Phoenix area. We survey the schools each year as well as conduct focus groups with the children that we serve to ensure we are providing items that are needed and wanted. We want these kids to feel good in the clothing that we provide, so we are consistently evolving in our items to ensure they are in style.”

--- Aimee Runyon

The Phoenix branch of the Assistance League was founded in 1961. Since 2012, the Assistance League of Phoenix has been partnering with Title I schools throughout the Phoenix metropolitan area providing needed essentials so students can attend school ready to learn.

“Our Operation School Bell program provides school clothing, shoes, and health kits to over 8,000 children grades K-8 at Title I schools, living in poverty each year,” Ms. Runyon said of the program. “In 2012 we came up with an idea to take our program mobile in an effort to bring the needed services directly to those most in need. This launched the Delivering Dreams Bus. The advent of the bus nearly doubled our numbers served within two years.”

The mission of Operation School Bell is to touch the lives of thousands of students who are in need throughout the Phoenix metropolitan area.

“Another huge component of our program is that children try on the clothing and shoes to ensure that they fit,” Ms. Runyon explained of how the scope of the program evolves.

“If you were to look at the shoes of the majority of kids we serve and go by that shoe size, you would be putting them in a shoe that is up to three sizes too small. The Delivering Dreams Bus is a mobile store on wheels, complete with dressing rooms so that the kids we serve get that same experience.”
Ms. Runyon points out the impact on the lives of these children can be profound through Operation School Bell.

“Most have never been shopping for new shoes/clothes so the experience of our program also leaves a positive impact on the children who we serve,” she said.

“Kids can’t concentrate on a math problem if their toes hurt because they are wearing shoes that are three sizes too small. They can’t participate in P.E. if the soles of their shoes are duct-taped on, and their shorts are falling down because they are three sizes too big and won’t stay rolled up. Children can’t excel to the next grade when they have excessive absences, because there weren’t enough pairs of shoes and school clothing for all of the kids in the family to wear every day, so they take turns. When kids come to school with clothing that is torn and dirty, they are bullied and ridiculed.”

No easy lift

Delivering on a promise for a better tomorrow is a group effort --- and no partner has been there quite like Fiesta Bowl Charities, Ms. Runyon explains.

“We are thrilled that Fiesta Bowl Charities granted us a donation that was matched by BHHS Legacy Foundation and helped us purchase and retrofit a new Delivering Dreams Bus,” she said. “Launching at the beginning of the 2020-21 school year, this new bus is slated to serve over 1,000 children in its first year. The outside wrap of the bus really features the Fiesta Bowl, making it exciting for the kids when we roll up to the schools.”

Ms. Runyon explains finding a way to cover the hard costs of the Delivering Dreams Bus was a major hurdle to providing support to children who need it. Turns out, this current grant year, Fiesta Bowl Charities provided a $100,000 grant to the Assistance League to cover the costs of the Operation School Bell program.

“We have found that by bringing Operation School Bell to the schools it alleviates the transportation cost for the school as well as the missed time for kids being out of class to come to our center,” she said.

“The reason that we love partnering with organizations like Fiesta Bowl Charities, is that we want the exterior wrap of the bus to be visually appealing to kids. We don’t want to stand out as the ‘charity bus,’ instead we want to pull up to a school and create a buzz that makes it special and exciting for kids to be selected to visit the bus. In addition, you can’t miss a 40-foot bus --- the community sees our buses at the schools and attributes Fiesta Bowl Charities as caring about their community because they came to their community.”

Kristina Chumpol, Fiesta Bowl Charities community relations director, says both organizations seek to be “great champions” for youth across Arizona.

“The work that Assistance League is doing for so many communities across the state is critical because there are so many children who do not have basic necessities and Assistance League shows up with a solution!” she said.

“It was important for Fiesta Bowl Charities to support Assistance League during this grant cycle as it allowed them to purchase a bus that travels to Title I schools provide two bottoms, three polo shirts, one pair of shoes, a sweatshirt, a belt, six pairs of socks, six pairs of underwear and a hygiene kit to approximately 3,000 youth. Transportation costs have prevented schools from being able to attend the Center, so the addition of a bus allows them to reach more children.”

Serving a paramount need

Ms. Chumpol explains why the Operation School Bell program is a vital lifeline for those who participate in the program.

“Ensuring that kids have basic necessities such as clothes and hygiene items is such an important step to set these students up for success,” she said. “Kids who benefit from Assistance League’s services now are able to walk into school with a sense of comfort, confidence and are ready to tackle the school day, which Fiesta Bowl Charities is proud to support.”

For Ms. Runyon, the realization of what could be behind a child’s excitement around receiving new toiletries is a reminder of the good work they are doing in the community.

“When children are excited to get a toothbrush because it means they won’t have to share anymore. It’s hard to imagine these scenarios in our community, at our schools; but we see it every day in Operation School Bell,” she said.

“Why is it paramount? Because every child deserves a chance. A chance to learn, to grow, and maybe that child will one day change the world. If all it takes is providing children with these basic necessities so that they can have that chance, why wouldn’t we, as a society want to make that a priority? These children are our future, and more than anything we need to show them what it looks like and feels like to be a village for them.”

Ms. Chumpol affirms the Fiesta Bowl Charities' confidence in the efforts and mission at the Assistance League of Phoenix.

“Assistance League has such a wonderful history both across the country and here in the Valley,” she said. “They are so focused in on their mission and staying true to that, which speaks great volumes to their success as a nonprofit. I look forward to watching how many lives Assistance League will continue to impact for many years to come.”

Go to alphx.org.

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