“Assistance” Is Their First Name.

Thrift Shop Exterior
Assistance League® Thrift Shop 1149 Willamette Street | Photo by Assistance League® Eugene

This is the ninth in a series of features exploring the world of service club organizations. They all have familiar names, but do you know what they really do? The name of each service club organization may evoke a particular memory from your past that describes what you think is their main activity in the community. This series will examine aspects of these groups that may not be as well-known to all of us but are very important to the people they serve. How did it all start? Again, the explanation is not so simple.

According to their national website “Assistance League® is a non-profit 501 (c)(3) organization which returns over $37.7 million annually to local communities, assisting 1.4 million people. This is made possible by the 26 thousand member volunteers in 120 chapters who contribute 2.86 million service hours.” Assistance League was the first nonprofit, nonpolitical, nonsectarian organization in the West to recognize the potential of volunteers in helping those less fortunate to a better, more meaningful life. Today, chapters across America address the emotional and physical needs of children and adults of all ages regardless of race or creed.”

Anne Banning
Anne Banning | Photo by www.assistanceleague.org

Anne Banning, a prominent member of Los Angeles society, together with Ada Edwards Laughlin, founded Assistance League in the mid 1890s with a group of equally prominent women who performed local charitable works. The group responded to the 1906 San Francisco earthquake and resultant fire by sewing needed clothes and collecting money to help the disaster survivors. Banning also organized and was the Director of the Los Angeles unit of the American Red Cross in 1917 when the United States entered WWI. To raise money they started the Red Cross Shop which, because of Anne’s organizational plan, became the model for Red Cross Shops nationwide. Anne along with 12 of her friends officially formed Assistance League of Southern California in 1919. In 1923 they purchased a bungalow to be their community house. Their first projects were numerous: Good Samaritan, Day Nursery, Girl’s Club, and Theatre for Children. To provide needed funds for the organization they utilized their Film Location Bureau, Attic Tearoom, Women’s Exchange, and Trousseau Shop. They say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery and that is evident in the fact that between 1920 and 1930 Assistance League® cutting edge services were copied by private and public agencies alike.

Ada Edwards Laughlin
Ada Edwards Laughlin | Photo by alslocounty.org

Anne Banning and Ada Edwards Laughlin officially organized National Assistance League to “promote the growth of effective volunteerism through leadership training and education.” Anne knew it was important for them to serve youth, but she also saw the need for the youth to serve too. The informal girl groups consolidated in 1944. There were chapters in San Pedro, Santa Ana, Santa Monica, Long Beach, Pasadena, Glendale, Pomona Valley, San Bernardino, and Santa Barbara by the time Anne and Ada retired in 1948. A very famous actress, Shirley Temple, belonged to the Beverly Hills Thrifties which supported their thrift shop. They devised guidelines for auxiliaries of members under the age of 21 and in 1961 these auxiliaries became known as “Assisteens.”

To quote Assistance League website again: “Through the gift of service to their communities, Assistance League chapters continue to fulfill Anne Banning’s philosophy of volunteer service: ‘to act as a friend at any and all times to men, women and children in need of care, guidance and assistance, spiritually, materially and physically. Today Assistance League is a national nonprofit organization that puts caring and commitment into action through community-based philanthropic programs.” Their signature national program called ” Operation School Bell®” just last year alone served 337,000 children and since 1958 it helped to get school clothes for over 3 million youngsters in need.

Assistance League of Eugene was founded in 1973 and chartered on April 27, 1978. The Eugene chapter has 248 members who serve children and adults in need. According to their local website “Assistance League members volunteered over 25,000 service hours for 2013-2014 through 7 philanthropic programs:

1) New clothes for children in need (Operation School Bell®)

2) Dental care for children in need  (Children’s Dental Center)

3) Music and fellowship with seniors (Caring and Sharing)

4) Library materials for homebound patrons (Operation Bookshelf)

5) Teddy bears for people in crisis (Operation Hug a Bear)

6) Historical museum presentations for children aged 5-12 (Operation Heritage)

7) Home supplies for families and veterans in transitional housing (Welcome Basket)”

Operation School Bell
Operation School Bell Shopping Event | Photo by Assistance League of Eugene

Let me elaborate a bit on the first program listed, Operation School Bell®, which happens annually from late September until early November. This year over 1,800 children grades K-8 will shop for new school clothes at special shopping events held at two Fred Meyer stores in Eugene. According to Jennifer McConochie, Chair for Marketing Communications Assistance League of Eugene, “Assistance League members do not determine who is eligible. Children in verified financial need are referred to the program by their relevant school personnel. Members do help out on the Shopping Event nights, checking students in, helping cashiers, and assisting parents in tallying their purchases prior to proceeding to checkout.” She told me the parents really appreciate the program and helping the children, some of whom are are getting new clothes for the first time, brings joy  to all who participate.There is some grant money to help fund Operation School Bell®, but most of the money comes from Assistance League Thrift Shop at 1149 Willamette Street.

Thrift Shop Interior
Thrift Shop Interior | Photo by Assistance League of Eugene

The Assistance League Thrift Shop receives gently used donations from the public and sells them for very reasonable prices. The public can doubly help Assistance League of Eugene’s Thrift Shop by donating items and also shopping there. The profits from the Thrift Shop are the mainstay for funding the many programs that I have listed and will help fund any future programs.

Thrift Shop Exterior
Assistance League Thrift Shop 1149 Willamette Street | Photo by Assistance League of Eugene

Please take a minute or two to look over some pictures and a couple of videos highlighting Assistance League of Eugene activities in the community.

Let me know what you would like me to talk about or explain. You can comment below or email me at: [email protected].

Tim Chuey is a Member of the American Meteorological Society and the National Weather Association and has been Awarded Seals of Approval for television weathercasting from both organizations.

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