League of volunteers assists the needy

Ingrid Jarvis, president of the Assistance League of Atlanta, shows off the nonprofit’s Attic Treasures Thrift Shop which raises funds to support various needs-based programs. Photo by Andrew Cauthen

The mother of a 5-year-old student at Marbut Elementary School said she was overwhelmed by the help she received from the Chamblee-based Assistance League of Atlanta.

“I must say I was reluctant to ask the counselors at Marbut Elementary for help,” the mother stated in a letter to the nonprofit. “I just knew the items being donated would be used items—to my surprise…it was a bag of brand new clothes.

“I am moved to tears because my 8-year-old has necessities and wants provided by his father and his mother but my 5-year-old is not so fortunate from his father’s side,” she wrote. “It reflected in his response, the feeling of having new clothes. Thank you, thank you for helping my family.”

In 1982, the Assistance League of Atlanta chapter (ALA) was formed by a group of 34 women. In the early years, ALA members sold crafts made by senior citizens at malls and outdoor markets.

After 30 years, ALA has grown into an organization with more than 250 member volunteers who logged an estimated total of 180,000 volunteer hours in the past four years.

The Atlanta chapter is housed in a 13,000-square-foot facility completed in August 2000. The volunteers raised $1.3 million in three years to pay for the building.

The national Assistance League organization was established in Los Angeles in the early 1900s and today has 26,000 members nationwide donating more than 2.6 million volunteer hours and $36 million yearly to local communities.

“It’s just a phenomenal organization,” said Ingrid Jarvis, president of the Atlanta chapter.

“It’s really a very rewarding thing to do,” said Jarvis, who worked with the German Consulate for 37 years before retiring. “It’s amazing what we get accomplished.”

The all-volunteer organization has 263 women and “a few good men,” said Jarvis, in her fifth year volunteering with ALA.

Through one of its philanthropic programs, Operation School Bell, ALA provides new clothing, uniforms, jackets, shoe vouchers and health kits for elementary school children in DeKalb, Atlanta and Fulton County. During the past academic year, ALA provided clothing for more than 8,000 school children. In DeKalb County, 3,030 children benefitted from the program, including 330 homeless children and fire victims.

ALA does not give items directly to individuals. Instead, it works through social workers and school guidance counselors.

Operation School Bell is the group’s largest philanthropic program, said Debbie Baughman, who joined ALA in 2001.

“We touch where the needs are the most,” Baughman said. “We don’t get involved with choosing who needs help. We pack up a week’s worth of clothing in some cases.”

The program takes most of ALA’s budget, she said.

Before joining ALA, Baughman did a lot of volunteering in schools and Girls Scouts. Then she read a newspaper article about the organization and decided to join it.

“At that point, I wanted to get out of the Girl Scouts and PTA world,” said Baughman, who retired from the insurance industry. She currently co-chairs ALA’s funds and grants committee and has helped bring in $66,000 this year.

Approximately 80 percent of ALA’s funding is raised through it Attic Treasures Thrift Shop, located in ALA’s building, across from the Chamblee Post Office on Antique Row, at 3534 Broad Street, Chamblee.

Attic Treasures is open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Tuesday through Saturday with extended hours on Thursdays until 7 p.m.

Jarvis said many of the donations to the organization come from consignment shops in metro Atlanta area that donate what they are unable to sell.

“It’s kind of a more upscale thrift store,” she said. “We don’t find it beneath our dignity to take things home with us and wash them.”

Other programs ALA supports include Bears for Children, which provides new teddy bears to comfort children during crises; Links to Education, which provides scholarships to deserving college students pursuing post-secondary education at Georgia colleges and New Beginnings, a program that donates new household goods, clothing and personal care items to victims of abuse, domestic violence and homelessness, who are receiving treatment or short-term care at nine social agencies.

ALA also supports the Shepherd Center by providing t-shirts, socks, bathing suits, and tear-away pants appropriate for physical therapy. The group also delivers a bag of cookies, smiles, hugs, and a greeting card to patients celebrating birthdays whose families may be far away. During 2011-2012, Assistance League of Atlanta helped more than 600 patients.

“Baughman said, “It’s just wonderful to know that you get to help people out there, even though you don’t get to see them. I feel blessed to be able to help people.”

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