Encinitas elementary school students get new clothes through Operation School Bell program

Ana Benitez and her daughter, Ocean Knoll third-grader Alexa Cardenas, check out after their Operation School Bell excursion.
(Luke Harold )

Ocean Knoll Elementary third-grader Alexa Cardenas walked up and down the aisles at Target with her mom Oct. 1, picking out new clothes for school with $70 from the Assistance League of Rancho San Dieguito’s Operation School Bell.

“I don’t get to do it often,” said Alexa, 9, adding that new shoes were at the top of her list.

She is one of about 450 elementary school students in Encinitas who were selected by their schools on an as-needed basis to shop at Target on El Camino Real this week with $70 from the nonprofit Assistance League. Her mother, Ana, a single mom who works as a housekeeper, said “it’s really helpful.”

The Assistance League of Rancho San Dieguito’s Operation School Bell also brought Encinitas students into Target Oct. 3. The third and final group will shop Saturday morning, Oct. 5. In addition to Encinitas (including Cardiff), the program also serves students in Del Mar, Solana Beach and Carlsbad. It started years ago with Assistance League members buying clothes that were then distributed to students. Now the children get to go into the store themselves to make their own choices.

A similar program for middle school students is scheduled for February.

“This is the best part, when you can actually see the children so happy,” said Joy Lappe, president of the Assistance League of Rancho San Dieguito.

Following about an hour of shopping, the students and their parents lined up at one of three registers where they could add socks or other small items if they had a few dollars left over.

“It’s extremely heartwarming,” Encinitas school board member Emily Andrade said. “These people are so appreciative of this opportunity.”

“It makes these kids feel empowered,” she added.

Encinitas City Councilman Joe Mosca said Operation School Bell shows “there really is a need in Encinitas,” a city more often associated with its affluence, to help provide families with some of the necessities.

“You definitely get to see different sides of our community,” added Mosca, who has attended the event in each of the last three years since his election.