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New thrift store supports program to buy clothes for SLO County kids

Bonnie Long, vice president of resource development for Assistance League of San Luis Obispo County, sets out clothing for the new thrift store the organization has opened in downtown San Luis Obispo.
Bonnie Long, vice president of resource development for Assistance League of San Luis Obispo County, sets out clothing for the new thrift store the organization has opened in downtown San Luis Obispo. dmiddlecamp@thetribunenews.com

So far this school year, volunteers with the Assistance League of San Luis Obispo County have taken more than 1,500 students in kindergarten through high school shopping for new clothes.

“We’ve clothed children who have come to school in pajama bottoms,” said Gail Stoneburg, president of the organization’s board of directors. “They come to school in slippers and flip-flops, things that are not appropriate for focusing on their school work and concentrating and doing well.”

Over the years, thousands of children and teens in need have received clothing and dental kits from the organization through its Operation School Bell program. The program was expanded this year to include high school students.

The local chapter of the national, nonprofit Assistance League was chartered in 1996 and serves students at all schools in the county’s 10 public school districts.

This month, board members have started a new venture in hopes of clothing more students and having more money to spend on them: a thrift store, which opened April 1 in downtown San Luis Obispo.

A ribbon-cutting event for the new store, located at 667-A Marsh St., will be held from 4 to 6 p.m. Wednesday.

Volunteers hope that the store becomes the major source of revenue for Operation School Bell.

They spend about $100 on each middle and high school student and about $80 on elementary school students, but Stoneburg said that volunteers are able to buy almost an entire wardrobe because of deep discounts the organization receives from Kohl’s and Old Navy.

“The child will leave the store with about $140 to $145 dollars worth of clothes based upon those discounts,” she said.

Having new, well-fitting clothes builds self-esteem and gives the students confidence, Stoneburg said.

“The difference is night and day when you see a student who isn’t proud of what they’re wearing come the next day with clothes that they picked out that are brand new,” said Lori Thomas Hicks, director of student intervention services for the Atascadero Unified district and a member of the Assistance League’s advisory council.

“The younger ones love it, and they’re excited about it,” she added, “but the confidence that it allows for those middle school and early high school students — that is kind of a game-changer.”

To see a list of donations the Assistance League will accept for the thrift store, go to www.alslocounty.org or call 782-0824.

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