Four racks of children's parkas line the walls. On department store shelves, jeans, underpants and socks lie in cubicles, sorted by size. Girls' sweatshirts fill one closet, boys' another. If you didn't know you were at the Assistance League chapter house, you'd think you were in the children's section of a large department store.
With a garbage bag in one hand and a size list in another, six or seven women move around the room, stashing clothes in the bag.
The clothes are brand new (as are the bags). They are headed for children who need warm and pretty clothes for winter: a parka, shirt, pants, socks and underwear.
More than 500 children in Salt Lake District elementary schools and Granite District Head Start will get a bag this year. The bag contains a note to the parents and a poem for the child explaining these clothes have been chosen especially for you, please take good care of them and have a good year at school.
Deanna Clark, who is in charge of public relations for the Assistance League, explains how the volunteers organize this massive school shopping expedition: "We've been performing this service, which we call Operation School Bell, for 12 years now. We get the names of the children from their teachers or school counselors.
"They identify the children - and who must really need help and not be receiving aid from another agency - and send a form home asking for the kid's measurements.
"Then we start filling orders. Each Wednesday we fill orders for one school. Then the volunteers load their cars and vans with bags and head for the school," Clark says.
The Assistance League already has most of the clothes on hand. They order over the summer, buying from the manufacturers at special rates, purchasing the most common sizes. "We sometimes have to go to the stores and buy clothes if we have orders for sizes we don't have," says Clark. "And that costs a lot."
But in most cases, Clark figures, the league spends only $40 for an outfit. "And that includes a really nice parka, like Pacific Trails," she says. "So you can see the manufacturers help us out a lot."
They don't want to embarrass the children who are receiving the clothes, so Assistance League volunteers are careful when they go to the schools to deliver their bags.
"We check to make sure the clothes fit," explains Clark. (And that the coats will fit for at least two years.) The children try on their outfits in the teacher's lounge or another private spot, the volunteers make substitutions if sizes aren't quite right, then the clothes are rebagged and left at the principal's office.
The children pick up the sack after school. That way the other students aren't even aware that Operation School Bell has once again come off without a hitch.
"Sometimes kids will try to tell us they don't really need the clothes," says Clark. "But usually the principal is standing right there to say, `Go ahead, they are for you.' And they are always so happy and excited to have the new, brightly colored school outfits.
"We are offering these kids something most of them have never had before."
Virginia Treseder, Operation School Bell chairwoman, says her committee is working extra hard now that the snow is falling. "We have about 150 more bags to fill and deliver. We should be done by mid-December," she says. "We are running out of small sizes this year, so I've had to go to the stores quite often. The schools understand that we fill the orders on a first-come first-served basis, so if they are late turning in their requests, and we've run out of clothes, there's nothing we can do."
Other volunteers who have been helping on the project include: Vickie Haig, Helen Diumenti, Peggy Hanson, Mary Ravarino, Julie Herrick, Pat Kraus, Jean Wong, Carol Putman, Marjorie Mackey, Kay Alder, Virginia Rees, Judy Cecil, Arlene Otto, Margaret Wright and Dorothy Watkiss.
The money to fund Operation School Bell comes from donations and proceeds from the Assistance League Thrift Shop, 2060 East 33rd South. The shop is open Tuesday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. For more information, call 484-3401.