Saturday, July 25, 2015

• Better Know A Local Charity: The Assistance League

Have you heard of the Assistance League?

I hadn't until a couple of years ago when my mother was moving and donated several pieces of furniture, and countless boxes of clothes, to them. Though they are called Assistance League of Temecula Valley, they help families and kids in Wildomar too.

From the outside, the Assistance League (AL) is seen as a well kept industrial building. On the inside, it's hard to tell that it's a converted bowling alley (that is now owned outright by the the AL), that serves as their thrift store and headquarters. Unlike other thrift stores I've been in, this one is clean and organized throughout. I didn't see any beat up items on display and the prices seemed very fair too.

Though they have a very nice website (link is below), with plenty of details about them, I wanted to get a less polished glimpse into the Assistance League. So I arranged a chat with Electra Demos, a past president (2009-2011), and here are the highlights from it.

Serving all of the Temecula Valley which includes Wildomar.

 WR  Tell me about the Assistance League.
 AL    The Assistance League is an all volunteer organization, we've been in the valley since 1989. It started small, we first clothed 33 children in Operation School Bell; last year we clothed 1,864 students and this year we're hoping to bump it up to 2,000. 

We come from all walks of life, mostly retired. Teachers, business people, business owners, bankers... you name it. We come with that background and that's what makes it so wonderful is that we all bring out expertise to the organization. We operate the thrift shop six days a week, and we also operate all of our philanthropic programs. 

The main one of which is our Operation School Bell, where we work with the four school districts, and we clothe children who are identified by the health technicians as HUD Low Income. It's so gratifying to see the smiles on the kids' faces when they leave with their bags of clothes. Some of these children have never shopped  for new clothes. We take them to the Kohl's in Temecula, Menifee or Murrieta and they are given an allowance of $125. Kohl's pays the sales tax and it gives them the buying power of $140.

Another program we really enjoy is Operation Bear Hug [where] we give bears to ERs of the local hospitals. The nurses love to give those bears to the kids because it soothes them. One time, after we had just approached a hospital and left a sample bear, a child came in that was just inconsolable. The doctor couldn't get near him, then the nurse remembered the bear and gave it to the child. The child calmed down immediately and the doctor's reaction was we need more bears!

We help other Non-Profits. We don't want to reinvent the wheel so instead of implementing a new program (perhaps a pantry program or a homeless program) we partner with others in something we call Operation Partnerships. So we can make agreements with the other 501(c)(3) and for instance, Project Touchwhen we had a cold winter, they had apartments to put people up. March [of that year] was still cold and they didn't have the money pay the rent on the unit, so we paid the rent for them.
Banners showing many different things that the Assistance League is involved in.

 WR  Tell me about Operation SHADES.
 AL    It's a financial literacy class. We work with the schools and they identify the at risk or foster youth or OSB kids (Operation School Bell), and the counselors identify other kids [suitable for this program] and last Spring we did five classes at different high schools. It's all day and we run it like a business conference. The kids come in in the morning, we have refreshments, they go through some classes like using credit, banking, [how to balance a] checkbook, credit cards. Things that kids really aren't familiar with.

"Shades" is not an acronym, it just means you're going to have a future so bright you need shades!
A look at part of the clothing area.
 WR  What is Assisteens?
 AL    It's [made up of] 7th through 12 graders. They work the counter [of the thrift shop] on Saturdays. They get a budget of $20,000 a year for working in the store; that way they don't have to do car washes or sell candy. This way it's a win-win, because they get work experience here. Kids can't get jobs at that age (14, 15). So this way they have something to put on their resume; they've counted money, they've run a store. They run their own philanthropic programs. They budget, they have a board with a lot of leadership opportunities.

 WR  Where are the Assisteens drawn from, the general public or...?
 AL    They are from all walks of life, they don't half to be from low income situations. Right now we have about sixty-four boys and girls in the program and it's building everyday. They can get their community service hours here, plus all this other experience. When they graduate we give reference letters for college or employment. 
This looks just like one my son had.

 WR  What is Chapters for Children?
 AL    It's under Operation School Bell. We're  a national organization and there are several chapters in the Southern California area. We team with these other chapters and we go to Camp Pendleton once a year and we clothe the identified low income military families. Each [AL] chapter is responsible for a piece of clothing or school supply and our chapter is responsible for boys jeans. We give two pairs of jeans to every boy who is in the program. We bought about 780 pairs of jeans last year.

Click on the picture for a larger view.
 WR  Tell me about the AL's fundraising.
 AL    Our main fundraiser is our thrift shop. We very aggressively write grants. We've been very successful with our grants [petitions]. We keep meticulous records because that's very important when you write a grant. Afterward you have to write a report on how you spent the money. We do a lot of California Block Grant writing, we get from the state and the supervisor districts. 

We are gearing up to have a program where we can approach people and ask if they would dress a child for $125. We're in the planning stages of how we're going to handle that. 

I asked if "Dress a Child" was similar to Adopt-a-Child, where a donor gets a letter back and maybe a picture too.

No, the donations go into a fund. It's not like Adopt-a-Child. If you want your donation to go to a Wildomar child, then that's restricted funds and it'll go to that budget for Wildomar.

In addition to our thrift shop and the grants we receive, we do get donations from companies. For example, Subaru. We have been selected as their Share The Love event [recipient]. For every Subaru that's sold, the person buying it can tell them what charity they want to donate $250 to. Once a year, from November to January, Subaru allows the local dealer to pick a local charity and last year we were awarded over $13,000.

 WR  How about membership?
 AL    Membership has been more word of mouth, neighbors speaking with neighbors, we've had new members come in through out website. We're hoping to attract women 40 and under, so we're kind of putting a push on that. You can find the info on our website. With Assisteens we have about 220 [current] members. We have close to 100 work-a-bees...
I had to ask what a work-a-bee was...

Like in every organization you have members that don't do too much, then there are those members that do a lot; we call those work-a-bees. Our backroom is sorting room and when donations come through the back door they need to be rough sorted. Which means if you have a mixed bag of stuff, some goes to the men's department, some to the women's department, books, toys, shoes etc. 

We don't have any paid staff. We gave back 82.7% of our revenue to our community. The only real expense we have is the building. 
The books are organized alphabetically.
While getting a tour of the thrift shop I was shown the various departments. A boutique where higher end garments are displayed; an area with books, CDs, books on tapes, records and even some VHS tapes; a toy section; a housewares section (which is a fun place to find plates, silverware and glasses that aren't run of the mill); a furniture department; and of course the clothing area.
A look at the furniture department.
Fun fact: The Assistance League is in the same 24,000sf building that once was Pinky's Bowling Lanes. If you look closely enough, you can see some tell-tale signs of it by the way its laid out. The thrift shop portion is 18,000sf.

In the room that used to be the Bar and Grill there is now a meeting room. They use it to give back to the community. 501(c)(3) organizations can book the room, and hold their meetings there for nothing. They have about 20 organizations that take them up on this offer.
A look at the meeting room that is available to other non profit organizations.

Operation Couture Closet: They have about 1500 gowns in an offsite location. During Prom and Winter Formal season, the girls who are identified as foster youth and Operation School Bell can just take a gown to wear to their dance... then bring it back for the next girl.

This is also available to adult women that have the need for such a gown too, for a $75 donation.

They have a truck to pick up large items like furniture, but do not have a truck that picks up small bags of clothing. If you have things you'd like to donate, come on down to their building... they'd love to flash you a smile as they help you drop of your donations.

Below is a video that the Assistance League recently had produced. It gives you a good overview of the thrift shop and what their purpose is.

Click to visit AL's website
link to AL's Facebook page
28720 Via Montezuma
Temecula, CA 92590

Phone: 951-694-8018
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