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Nonprofit quietly creates a village for Indianapolis children, women

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It takes a village to raise a child. For nearly 40 years, the Assistance League of Indianapolis (ALI) has been a part of that village, helping Hoosier students in kindergarten through fifth grade get the clothes they need for school.

At the beginning of each school year, students in need within Indianapolis Public Schools and school districts of Pike, Washington, Warren and Lawrence townships receive two school uniforms, a package of underwear and socks, a belt, a winter coat, a hygiene set and a few books in a duffel bag. Students in those districts as well as students in the Metropolitan School District of Wayne Township can receive a pair of tennis shoes through ALI’s initiative, Operation School Bell. The nonprofit donated 2,528 duffel bags at the beginning of the 2021 school year and 890 pairs of shoes.

In 2021, the Assistance League of Indianapolis provided 2,528 students with school uniforms, hygiene kits and winter coats through its Operation School Bell initiative. (Photo provided by Assistance League of Indianapolis)

However, like most programs, ALI was heavily impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. Remote learning and teacher shortages made it difficult to connect with school social workers, and children learning from home didn’t need to worry about uniforms.

However, as students returned to the classroom, ALI volunteers found a heightened need for assistance. While they couldn’t go into schools for fittings as usual, they worked with social workers and parents to get correct measurements for children in need and dropped off duffel bags to the schools for distribution.

“We get letters from kids saying, ‘Now nobody will make fun of me because I have the right clothes,’” Kathy Kerr Wylan, vice president of marketing, said.

Deb Myers, who has volunteered with ALI for 12 years, said having the proper clothes to wear can help children succeed in school.

“We used to do impact surveys,” Myers said, “and the biggest response we got was that children were feeling better about themselves. When they don’t have to worry about what they’re wearing, they can focus on their studies.”

ALI’s mission goes beyond clothes for children. The nonprofit also works with 19 local hospitals to supply assault survivor kits, which consist of clothing and underwear for those seeking help in assault, domestic violence or sexual assault cases. Often, victims have to surrender their clothing as evidence of a crime. Since March 2020, Indianapolis domestic violence shelters have been inundated with calls and more people in need of assistance. Since the beginning of the pandemic, rates of domestic violence-related homicides increased 100% in Indiana. Beyond domestic violence, growing rates of gun violence in Indianapolis, Myers said, has led to a growing need for assault kits.

The majority of ALI’s funding comes from grants and contributions from local organizations, as well as fundraising events hosted by ALI’s 201 members, including its annual “Jingle and Mingle” holiday event and a charity golf outing every September. ALI President Trish Severns credits the nonprofit’s success to community involvement and the dedication of its volunteers.

“We’re all mostly retired professional women, and people who volunteer here know they’re going to work,” Severns said. “We all want to be out here making a difference. … Everyone has a passion for it and works really hard.”

Contact staff writer Breanna Cooper at 317-762-7848. Follow her on Twitter @BreannaNCooper.

To learn more about ALI and fundraising endeavors, visit alindy.org.

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