St. George – Two hundred people attended a fundraising banquet for Assistance League Southern Utah on Saturday evening at the SunRiver Ballroom, doubling the attendance of last year’s banquet.
“Planting the Seeds of Success” was the theme of this year’s dinner and auction. Attendees were able to participate in opportunity drawings, a silent auction and a live auction during the event.
“This event is our annual fundraiser for Operation School Bell,” Martha Heuer, president of the organization, said. “We raise money to provide new clothing and shoes for students in Washington County, as well as books for the schools. We also provide books for Kindergarten children to bring home over the summer.”
In order to qualify for new clothing and shoes, students must be at or below the poverty level and be recommended by school staff.
Keynote speaker Karen Bishop said that the Washington County School District Office gave her a report showing there are currently over 1,000 homeless students in the district and 10,366 of the district’s 28,000 students qualify for the free lunch program. An average of about 37 percent of students are living below the poverty level districtwide, she said.
“This figure is probably much higher,” Bishop said of students living below poverty level, because some people who need help don’t ask for it.
So far this year, 593 children have been provided with new clothing and new shoes within the Washington County School District, she said.
Bishop shared the story of a fifth grade boy who was waiting at the office door for the school counselor when she arrived at school so he could model his new clothes and shoes for her. After the boy ran off to his classroom, the counselor talked with the boy’s mother who shared through tears that her son had carefully removed all the tags and taped them to his bedroom mirror. He wanted to keep the tags because these were the first new clothes he had ever owned. Everything else he owned had been handed down from someone else.
Paula Christensen has been a member of the Assistance League for about two years.
“The schools provide the names of the students,” Christensen said.
Once the organization receives the names of students who qualify the students are given an opportunity to shop at one of three Wal-Mart stores in Washington County, she said. Payless shoes also provides vouchers for the children to purchase new shoes.
“This has been an outstanding year for Assistance League,” Heuer said to guests attending the dinner. “We have clothed and provided shoes and books to over a thousand children in Washington County.”
Though the focus has been primarily on elementary-age schoolchildren, this year the league has gone into the intermediate schools and provided clothing for 100 children. Their hope is to eventually include the middle and high schools, Heuer said.
History of ALSU
Marilyn Valle is the founding president of Assistance League Southern Utah. She was involved in the Assistance League in Salt Lake City. When she relocated to Southern Utah she saw a need to help underprivileged children in Washington County and started Operation School Bell at East Elementary School in St. George.
Valle soon learned that Operation School Bell is a trademark of the Assistance League. She formed the Southern Utah chapter in 2008 so she could continue her work in helping schoolchildren.
“From the very beginning, the developers of SunRiver have donated money to us,” Valle said. “We’ve had our fundraising dinners here for years.”
Many residents of SunRiver St. George, a planned retirement community in St. George, have supported Valle’s efforts from the very beginning, Valle said.
In the beginning Valle would go to Las Vegas clothing markets to shop for clothes with donated money and bring the clothes back to the students. Now the students meet Assistance League members at one of three Washington County Wal-Mart stores and receive a list of items they can buy with the money raised by the league.
“We use it as a math lesson, too,” Valle said.
If, for instance, students have a total of $80 to spend on clothing, they are encouraged to add up what they are spending as they are shopping, she said. It becomes a lesson in value, too.
Battle of the paddles
The highlight of the evening Saturday was the live auction. Each attendee was offered a numbered paddle to participate in the live auction following dinner. There were several items up for auction including golf excursions, quilts, jewelry, art and much more.
This quickly turned into a battle of the paddles as people worked to outbid one another, and sometimes unknowingly outbid themselves, on the most sought-after items. One golf excursion for four was awarded to a bidder for $600, who then donated it back to the league to be awarded to a second bidder for an additional $600. The bidding was done in fun and to raise money for a very special cause.
Bishop closed her comments with this thought: “If you wait until you can do everything for everybody instead of something for somebody, you’ll end up doing nothing for nobody.”
“We can’t do everything so we do what we can,” she said. “That’s our challenge.”
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