Volunteers Help Disadvantaged Children Shop For Free School Supplies And Clothes
By Cheryl Conway
Thanks to a local group of volunteers, more than 700 economically disadvantaged students will be walking into school next month with new school supplies, stylish clothes and more confidence.
The National Council of Jewish Women, Essex County Section (NCJW/Essex) held its annual Back 2 School Store (B2SS), Sun., Aug. 2, at B’Nai Shalom in West Orange. Children in grades kindergarten through fourth from Newark, East Orange and surrounding areas shopped from 9:30 a.m. to 4 p.m.
As advocates for women, children and families, the B2SS has been an ideal program of the NCJW since it began participating in 2009.
“This project fits in so well with our mission,” says Lisa Blumert, director of communication for the NCJW Essex chapter. “We want them to have a better start; a healthier start.”
Children who are economically disadvantaged tend to start off school with a disadvantage if they do not have proper supplies and even clothing to succeed.
“There are a lot of disadvantaged children in our backyard,” she says.
The B2SS has benefitted nearly 3,000 children and utilized more than 2,000 volunteers during the past seven years. This year, 700 children with the aid of more than 400 volunteers, including
one-on-one personal shoppers were expected.
Hundreds of children from kindergarten through fifth grade are identified annually by partner agencies and invited to “shop” cost-free for new school supplies, clothes, and personal care items in a department-store-type setting with 4,000 square feet set up just for them.
Throughout the year, local individuals, families, and businesses donate the brand new clothes and supplies. With financial contributions made, NCJW volunteers also shop for brand-new clothes and supplies in major retail stores.
With the assistance of NCJW volunteer “personal shoppers,” each child is escorted
through the store to select and try on clothing to create an entire new outfit including a shirt, pants, sneakers, socks, underwear, winter jacket, hat and gloves. Volunteers also act as shoe fitters, staff private fitting rooms and restock inventory.
In addition to the clothes, children are given a new backpack which they fill with school supplies and personal care items.
The event is not open to the public as children are recognized by more than 30 local
social service agencies as needing additional financial support.
“We partner with about 32 agencies,” says Blumert. “They identify the children based on need and we sign them up.”
While the children are shopping with their personal shopper, parents do not go into the store, she adds. It is the goal of the program to “empower these children to make choices and go shopping,” says Blumert.
By shopping without a parent, children “gain confidence and make some choices on what they want to wear and what color backpack they want.”
Parents and caregivers, meanwhile, are invited to visit the onsite Gaelen Family Resource Center at the synagogue for free health screenings for children, blood pressure screenings, glucose tolerance testing, eye exams and proper dental care for children. Information about health, community and career services, as well as educational opportunities, is also accessible through the center.
For more information about the Back 2 School Store, visit the NCJW/Essex website, www.ncjwessex.org/volunteer/back-2-school-store/.
The NCJW is a grassroots, non-sectarian organization of volunteers and advocates, inspired by Jewish values that strive for social justice by improving the quality of life for women, children, and families and by safeguarding individual rights and freedoms. With more than 3,200
members, Essex County Section is the largest of the more than 100 NCJW sections around the country. The section was founded in 1912 and maintains offices in Livingston.
For more information and upcoming events, log on to www.ncjwessex.org.