Submitted by Assistance League of Bellingham
Organized as a national nonprofit in 1935, Assistance League’s roots date back to the turn of twentieth century America when founder, Anne Banning, and her friend Ada Edwards Laughlin pioneered a tradition of compassion and benevolence carried on by their modern-day counterparts in Assistance League chapters around the country.
A social activist at heart, Anne and a small group of prominent women began doing local charitable work in mid-1890 under the name Assistance League.
In 1919, Anne, Ada and their charity-minded friends formalized Assistance League of Southern California as a precursor to the national organization. They began by providing food and clothing for local families severely impacted by the war. A few years later, they greatly expanded their efforts with a neighborhood Community House that offered programs and services which were emulated by public and private agencies.
Anne and Ada created a legacy of giving back that endures today. When they retired in 1948, there were 10 local chapters throughout Southern California. There are currently 120 chapters in 26 states nationwide, with more on the horizon.
The hard work and endurance of 10 Bellingham women in 1977 to push forward when many said it would not work, has clearly paid off today. We became a Chapter (Assistance League of Bellingham) of National Assistance League in 1978.
Several of the original founders of Assistance League of Bellingham are still members and continue to live in our community.
Some of the programs in the 1970s – 1990s were:
- Ala Carte – Delivered food to nursing homes.
- Art-a-Foot – Provided art appreciation experiences for grade school children.
- Centrum Foundation Scholarships – Established the forerunner of the Enrichment Scholarship Program we have now.
- S.A.T. Review Seminar – Helped students prepare for college entrance S.A.T. tests.
- Operation School Bell® – Started at Alderwood School in the fall of 1995.
When Operation School Bell, our signature program, first began, underwear and socks for the children were stored in the janitor’s closet! The need for this program has grown tremendously and is available to every school in Whatcom County. In fact, all 120 Assistance League chapters in the country provide this important service.
A school teacher became concerned when she noticed two brothers in her class did not attend school at the same time.
One would show up and the other did not. She found out they were sharing a pair of shoes. They took turns getting “fully dressed” to participate in school. Out of this experience and community awareness, Assistance League of Bellingham found a need they could fill.
When you think about it, if you ever received or gave hand-me-downs, they were most often NOT underwear, socks or shoes. These were the first items that were distributed through Operation School Bell. We now provide $100 to each child for a shopping spree at Target in Bellis Fair Mall. In 2019, before the pandemic, we helped 2,285 students not only with underwear, socks and shoes, but warm coats, and a full wardrobe.
- Thrift & Gift Shop – Opened in 1996. The first location was at North State Street, then we moved to two different locations on Cornwall Street in downtown Bellingham. Our final move was to our present location at 2817 Meridian Street. In the beginning, we were excited to average $80 a day. Thanks to our devoted shoppers, donors and supporters, we were averaging $2,000 a day prior to the COVID closure!
Assistance League of Bellingham’s programs now are: (numbers are pre-pandemic)
- Operation School Bell – providing new school clothes for 2,285 children in need (due to the pandemic 780)
- Enrichment Scholarship Program – awarding $55,717 in summer scholarships
- Care Center Support – buying personalized gifts for 331 care center residents
- Hospital Patient Care – giving emergency clothing for 550 ER patients
- Eating Healthy – connecting kids to healthy food in our new program
We are proud to be part of a national organization. We don’t have to “reinvent the wheel” because we share our trials, experiences and successes with 220,000 other volunteers in 120 chapters throughout the United States.
All funds raised by Assistance League of Bellingham stay in Whatcom County to serve those in need.