Operation School Bell – A New Member’s Perspective

Linda Legner and Linda Gonnella

An Open Letter from Jamie Marucha

A bit less than a year ago, Meg Cooper and I were talking at a high school coffee, about senior activities, college applications and the approaching graduation of our youngest children. I mentioned that I was looking for a new adventure for myself too, as an empty nester. Meg had just the right answer –Assistance League of Chicagoland West.

The busy season of ALCW’s Operation School Bell program has been the perfect fit. As I packed my own two children off to college, I embraced the OSB program to provide warm winter wear to more than 1700 school children in need.

The camaraderie I have found in this group of OSB volunteers has been a blessing! Who could be lonely when surrounded by friendly conversations during the OSB weekly coat packing sessions? So many of the ALCW members participate in OSB; it has been a great way to get to know everyone quickly.

I am especially grateful for the opportunity to work alongside two women who are an inspiration, the Co-Chairs of OSB, Linda Gonnella and Linda Legner. Linda Legner has been a wonder, negotiating complex distribution agreements with two dozen schools, the movers and the ALCW site coordinators, while also juggling her other volunteer duties for ALCW. Linda Gonnella is a charter member of ALCW, participating since 1995, and after all the OSB program work is complete, I hope she’ll tell me the remarkable story of this organization’s beginning. This year, she personally selected thousands of stylish new coats, hats and gloves for the children, spent untold hours creating a spreadsheet and labels with each child’s name and size, and has been at the ALCW warehouse every week to organize and oversee our packing efforts.

The dedication of these women is impressive, as is the committed involvement of so many members, each of us sensing that we own the OSB program and working hard to ensure its success.

Packing and preparing were fun. But, I must say that the biggest reward comes when we meet the children. We offer a bright red or blue bag to each child. Their eyes wide and shiny, they open the ALCW bags like an unexpected present. “This is my favorite color!” they exclaim, and “I love this coat!” How can your heart not be warmed by the thought of all these children frolicking in the snow this winter in their brand new coats!