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Lakeville, Leonard students go shopping

Leonard Elementary kindergartner Maxine Sylvester tries on a brand new winter coat with some help from volunteer Sue O’Neill, of Rochester Hills. Photo by C.J. Carnacchio. (click for larger version)
October 26, 2011 - Winter seems to last a long time in Michigan. But it lasts even longer for a child without a proper coat to fend off the bitter cold and mountains of snow.

But thanks to the good folks at the Rochester Hills-based Assistance League of Southeastern Michigan, 69 students from Lakeville Elementary and 43 from Leonard Elementary received brand new winter coats, along with a variety of other necessities, all free of charge.

It was all part of the group's annual Operation School Bell program that provides deserving students with basic things to make their everyday lives a little easier, so they can focus on their school work and just enjoy being a kid.

Since 1995, the program has helped meet the needs of more than 12,300 students. This was the third year the Oxford school district participated.

This year's distribution was held Oct. 21 at Walt Whitman Elementary in Pontiac.

"It's my favorite field trip of the year," said Lakeville Principal Kristy Gibson-Marshall. "It's one of the most moving experiences you'll ever see."

Leonard Principal Paul McDevitt enjoys seeing the students' faces "light up."

"From the moment that we all go to lunch together, they know they're doing something special," he said. "They get to come down here, go shopping and get some things they can really use throughout the year."

The school's gymnasium was transformed into a mini department store, complete with clothing racks and folks taking students' measurements. Each child was assigned a friendly volunteer who escorted them through the gym and helped them shop.

"Those ladies and men are in there working and giving so selflessly to make sure these kids get what they need," Gibson-Marshall said. "It's amazing."

Upon entering the gym, each student received a duffel bag, which they promptly filled with a new winter coat, knit hat and gloves, a pair of jeans, two shirts, socks, underwear, a personal hygiene kit, a book and a voucher for Payless Shoes.

The kids got to pick out everything themselves with a little help from the volunteers when it came to finding the right sizes.

"For a lot of these kids, this is their first time shopping for themselves – where they get to pick out what they want and what they like," McDevitt said. "They really have fun doing it. It makes me feel good to see them enjoying themselves. I'm beaming."

To learn more about the Assistance League of Southeastern Michigan, please visit the nonprofit group's website at www.semich.assistanceleague.org or call (248) 656-0414.

CJ Carnacchio is editor for The Oxford Leader. He lives in the Village of Oxford with his wife Connie and daughter Larissa. When he's not busy working on the newspaper, he enjoys cigars/pipes, Martinis/Scotch, hunting and fishing.
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