“Would you like to help us pack?”
If an Assistance League of Chicagoland West volunteer asks you that, best put on some jeans or sweatpants. No need to get all gussied up, and do not expect a silver tea service with refreshments. If the ladies take a break, you’ll find your coffee in a paper cup.
Those ladies are asking you to work packing hundreds of coats for needy school children in our area. They will be focused and serious and all about completing their task. That activity and that focus is what an assistance league member means by “hands-on,” and that is what attracts women to volunteer for the assistance league.
Sept. 4, for example, was a rainy day good for sleeping in, reading books or catching up on paperwork, but inside the assistance league office at 120 E. Ogden Ave., it was abuzz with activity. There more than a dozen volunteers — maybe 14, maybe 13 but they were moving pretty quickly and hard to count amidst all the mountains of boxes — were readying winter jackets. They were unpacking them from the warehouse and repacking them with pairs of winter gloves and winter hats into boxes labeled for various ages.
This fall, the assistance league will distribute 2,300 winter coats to school children in the greater Hinsdale area. That number represents an increase of 600 coats, and thus 600 children, from just a few years ago, according to Diane Kurtz, one of five co-chairs of Operation School Bell. Consider that increase — from 1,700 to 2,300 coats — and what it means: for one, just how much need there is right here in our own backyard, and for another, that a child is suffering form that need, and finally that this group of women helps to fill that need.
These women don’t just pack up the coats, according to Laila Alamuddin, another co-chair with Maria Garino, Maureen Hegarty and Phyllis Young. Volunteers will later go to the schools and distribute the coats directly to the kids. That is a joyful day when the women interact directly with the people they are serving, and indeed the programs that ALCW runs are like that — volunteers interact directly with the people they serve.
In addition to providing coats for younger elementary children, the assistance league is working on a pilot program in partnership with Kohl’s to serve middle school-age kids, kids who would not want to be pulled from class and given a coat, for example, but still have need. This program will give those kids a $75 gift card and let them choose clothing on a specific shopping night. According to Fernanda Valentino, many of these kids are in need of appropriate gym shoes for example.
Valentino is the assistance league’s vice president of philanthropy. She oversees its five programs: Operation School Bell; Operation New Start, providing new kitchen equipment to those leaving homelessness and entering new living situations; Operation Early Reading, providing backpacks with books and crayons for early readers; Operation Scholarship Support, giving $1,000 scholarships for College of DuPage; and Operation Project Stepping Stone to help teen mothers.
The assistance league’s major fundraiser is the annual Books and Brunch in November, one of my favorites not just because it involves books and brunch but also boutique shopping and draws several hundred women (and a few men) from the area. For more information including membership information, visit www.alcw.org.