60 years of service: Salem-Keizer Assistance League marks a turning point - Salem Reporter

60 years of service: Salem-Keizer Assistance League marks a turning point – Salem Reporter

In 1962, a group of women came together to form the Salem-Keizer Assistance League. Their first meetings were in personal homes and their programs were small.

Today, the Assistance League has nearly 200 members, many more volunteers, and plans to stay in the Salem area to help even more families.

A community thank you to celebrate the nonprofit’s 60th anniversary is scheduled for Saturday from noon to 4 p.m. at two locations: Daue House Gift Shop at 1095 Saginaw St. S., and Encore Furniture, at 1198 Commercial St. Both serve as donation depots and retail fundraising locations for the Assistance League.

Cookies, food trucks and a raffle will complete the party. No entry fee is required, but donations are always welcome.

“This is the community celebration of our 60th anniversary. It’s not a fundraiser. It’s more of a thank you to the community,” said Sally Beilstein, president of the Salem-Keizer Assistance League.

One of the first programs started in the 1960s in Salem provided used clothes and shoes to children in need. This program remains, but it has changed over the years. Operation School Bell is now providing new pants, shirts, shoes, coats, socks and underwear to children in need.

“Operation School Bell fills a need so critical that it takes center stage,” Beilstein said. “There are so many needs in Salem, and there’s really no one else who cares about clothes.”

“Some of these kids never had anything new in themselves because they always had things that were passed down to them. They are therefore delighted to have these new clothes. They tend to fit in better, and the theory is that they want to go to school and do well. But it’s hard to quantify that,” she said.

Jeanette George loads a hygiene kit into a drawstring bag at the Salem-Keizer Relief League on Monday, April 26, 2021. (Amanda Loman/Salem Reporter)

Teachers from Chemawa Indian School and Salem-Keizer Public Schools provide information on children who should attend Operation School Bell. Members of the Relief League create parcels filled with clothes for these children. These parcels go to the school counsellors, who give them to the children.

In 1960, the first year of this program, 83 students from 19 schools were served. During the 2020-2021 school year, more than 2,500 students were served by Operation School Bell at more than 65 schools in the Salem area.

Other Help League programs provide homebound adults with library books, help children leaving foster care transition to independent living, and help homeless families settle into new homes. None of these programs were available in the 1960s.

“Where we saw the need and where our members were interested, we added programs,” Beilstein said. “We try not to add now. We’re just trying to fill the need that we have now.

Operation Bookshelf was organized in September 1972 and served 403 people. In 2020-2021, the program served 55 adults each month. (Courtesy of Salem-Keizer Relief League)

For 40 years, the League has hosted a lasagna breakfast to raise money for these programs. It was considered the group’s main fundraiser and many members looked forward to the event every year.

“The pandemic just shut that down,” Beilstein said. “So we are looking at other ways to raise funds, including another big event.”

On November 3, the Assistance League is organizing an event in collaboration with Brothers Car Museum. Guests view over 350 vintage cars. Doors open at 3 p.m. and close at 8 p.m. Tickets are available now for $75 on the Support League website.

“I think it will be a lot of fun and could attract a lot of people who have never heard of the Assistance League before. That’s one of our goals: to spread the word about us,” said Beilstein.

All of these programs and events are facilitated by dedicated members and volunteers.

“We are still a very viable organization. We’re doing amazing things with a small number of people, and we’re all very proud of that,” Beilstein said. “We say people join Assistance League because they believe in the cause, but they stay for the friendships. People are really drawn to what we do, but when they join there’s such camaraderie. They make friends, they bond, and that fills a real niche for them.

Member and volunteer opportunities are available now, and help is always needed.

“Try us. We are always looking for members,” Beilstein said.

Volunteers and members run the Help League programs. In this undated photo, a volunteer sets up a donation display. (Courtesy of Salem-Keizer Relief League)

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