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Grateful families select clothing, coats and books -- meet with Santa Claus thanks to Assistance League of Greater Portland


THE TIMES: JAIME VALDEZ - Romeo Islas, 8, of Beaverton is wowed by Santa on Saturday. Ho! Ho! Ho! And a bundle of coats and books!

The holiday season rang in for about 100 children with Operation School Bell on Saturday in Beaverton as the Assistance League of Greater Portland provided new coats, jeans, socks and books to the youths who were chosen by educators and school personnel.

The all-volunteer organization had a professional Santa on-hand for children to share their Christmas wishes with and have their photos taken. For some it was the first time getting a photo with the big guy.

Romeo Islas, 8, of Beaverton was all smiles and bursting with joyous energy as he carefully selected his books — "Captain Underpants," and "Diary of a Wimpy Kid."

"I am so happy," Romeo said. "I love Christmas. I am a twin. My brother's name is Julian. We were born on Valentine's Day. We have a cat and she knocks down the Christmas tree," he added in rapid progression as he flipped through the pages of his book. "I love reading."

Romeo then ran over to Santa and hugged him.

Santa was the real deal — a tall, portly, white-haired, jolly man who seemed to have a magical way with the children. It was not coincidental. In another life, Santa taught first-grade at Hazeldale Elementary School.

On Saturday each child received a puffy coat, two pairs of jeans, two T-shirts, socks, underwear, a shoe voucher and a book.

"We have a great partnership with the Portland Public, Beaverton and Hillsboro school districts," Assistance League member Cass Humphrey said. "This year we will clothe a diverse group of over 3,600 elementary, middle, and high school students. All had been identified and referred to us by school councilors and teachers. They come with their families. It is often the first time many children have received new clothes."

A former recipient of the program and one of Pamplin Media's 2016 "Amazing Kids," Coral Lara Rizo, checked families in to the event. Rizo, a senior at Aloha High School, has been volunteering with the Assistance League for five years.

Rizo began volunteering at age 12, when she saw the Assistance League in need of a translator during an event.

"Coral is a savior. What she's done for everyone has been a blessing," Tish Shinn, Assistance League member said.

The group, a 501(c)(3), has been serving the greater Portland area since 1961. It was founded that year and became a charted Chapter of National Assistance League in 1965.

The chapter currently has about 170 members. Membership and programs are open to all. Regional community service programs benefit children, young adults, adult students at Portland Community College and victims of violence.

The Assistance League just started a scholarship for students pursuing a trade school education at Portland Community College, as well. All programs are funded by operating the Assistance League Thrift and Consignment Shops, through grants, special events and donations.

The organization's history

In the 1890s Anne Banning and a small group of women started doing charitable work in Southern California. Banning also helped to organize the Los Angles Red Cross in 1917. In 1919, Banning and 12 of her friends founded Assistance League of Southern California and soon formed the first Oregon chapter in Hillsboro, according to Humphrey. Banning and Ada Laughlin organized National Assistance League in 1935 to promote the growth of effective volunteerism through leadership training and education. NAL is the national umbrella non-profit for ALGP. NAL consist of 26,000 member volunteers in 120 chapters nationwide.

"Together we contribute 3.2 million service hours per year nationwide," Humphrey said.

To learn more about ALGP, visit portland.assistanceleague.org.

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