LIVINGSTON, NJ — The 10th annual NCJW/Essex Back 2 School Store brought grins all around on Sunday, July 29, as hundreds of children went shopping at a one-day pop-up store designed to help economically disadvantaged children in Essex County.
“I love my new backpack and I got to pick it out myself!” exclaimed one little girl to her mother as she emerged from the store carrying a bag brimming with back-to-school items. Inside the gym, walls were lined with coats, rows of new sneakers, and racks and racks of clothing. This year NCJW/Essex celebrated its 10th anniversary of the B2SS with its largest event to date, outfitting 860 children with the help of nearly 550 volunteers. The children shopped for new clothing, school supplies and personal care items, encouraging a well-equipped and confident start to the new school year.
The day kicked off with a ribbon-cutting ceremony for dignitaries and supporters of the store, led by NCJW/Essex President Lesley Greenstein, of Summit. B2SS Co-chairwomen Andrea Mintz and Stacey Laken, both of Livingston, and Karen Cherins, of West Orange, joined as well. What followed was a long line of excited children, eager to enter and pick out new pants, shirts, winter coats, sneakers, gloves, socks, undergarments and hats, as well as personal care items, school supplies and books. The children, referred by more than 30 social service agencies, were each greeted by a personal shopper who led them on their shopping excursion. This year’s event was held at Joseph Kushner Hebrew Academy in Livingston.
While the children shopped, parents and guardians visited the onsite Gaelen Family Resource Center. Lining the walls were organizations such as Advocates for Children NJ, the Essex County Family Justice Center, KinderSmile Foundation, NCJW/Essex Center for Women, Planned Parenthood of Metro NJ and Rachel Coalition, along with University Hospital, which offered free health screenings and health information.
The cost of school supplies is often overlooked as a major annual expense. Families living in poverty struggle with the rising cost demands of public education. In Essex County alone, 24 percent of households with children lived below the poverty level in 2015. NCJW/Essex believes that no child should start off the school year already behind, and has put together the B2SS for the past 10 years to meet this need.
“This place is so cool!” said an 8-year-old boy trying on some trendy sneakers. “Beautiful!” exclaimed a 5-year-old girl as she struck a pose in the mirror with a hot pink coat trimmed with faux fur. The day was summed up by one volunteer personal shopper who said, “The whole experience of interacting with the kids, seeing so many volunteers hard at work and the positive environment that is created is simply extraordinary.”
Ranging from college students to grandparents, the passion each volunteer brought was undeniably visible through the broad smiles of hundreds of children who filled the store. With three shifts throughout the day, volunteers underwent specific training on how to optimize the shopping experience for each child. From picking out pens and calculators to help finding jeans with the perfect fit, the personal shoppers guided and encouraged each child through every step.
Each year the Back 2 School Store is supported by grants and generous financial contributions from individuals, foundations and corporations, enabling the children to “shop” cost-free but leave with million-dollar smiles!
Photos Courtesy of NCJW