On Sunday, July 29, the National Council of Jewish Women, Essex County Section (NCJW/Essex) hosted its 10th annual Back 2 School Store, an event that provides clothes, school supplies and more to economically disadvantaged children. This year’s event took place at the Joseph Kushner Hebrew Academy in Livingston, and saw approximately 850 children, grades K to five, walking through the school’s gym, which was set up as a one-day pop-up department store, with shopping at no cost for all the things the children will need to ensure a successful start to their school year. With no parents allowed in the “store” to sway their choices, each child had an assigned personal shopper guiding them through the process, assisting them with choosing from the wide range of selections, including a new outfit, coat, backpack, sneakers, books and personal care items. All clothing and supplies in the store were brand-new items, amassed through financial contributions, and over 500 volunteers assisted in the day’s endeavors.
The event spanned over six hours and was conducted in three different shifts, each allowing a few hundred children to visit the gym and pick out their clothes and supplies at the same time. The staff wore color-coordinated aprons: blue for personal shoppers, red for retail assistants and green for steering committee members. Upon entering the school and signing in, the children were introduced to their personal shopper, who led them to the gym. Parents were directed to the Gaelen Family Resource Center, where numerous agencies shared helpful information about community resources and career services. Additionally for the parents, there were opportunities in the center for free health screenings. After the children were done at the store, parents and children were reunited in a designated area. Each shopping trip took roughly 30 to 45 minutes.
Stacey Rudbart has been contributing to the Back 2 School Store for nine years. Speaking to The Jewish Link in the bustling gym, where she was managing the school supplies section, she elaborated on just how much the day means to her.
“This is the day that I live for,” she explained in between handing out calculators, pencil cases and rulers, “and it’s my time to give back. This is for our future. NCJW/Essex is a wonderful organization to be a part of; it empowers women and children to be the best they can be and I’m just so proud to be a part of it.”
Lenny Dinnerstein, who was working in the coat section of the gym, echoed Rudbart’s sentiments, explaining what he hopes the children will take from the day.
“The whole idea [of today] is that the kids should start school feeling good about themselves,” he said. “We want them to go to school excited—that they’re wearing something nice, that they have the supplies they need, that they have a positive attitude. If it wasn’t for the fact that [the kids] were coming here, they might go to school not feeling so good about themselves.”
There were many smiling faces in the halls outside the parent pick-up areas, with kids excitedly showing off their new shoes and coats to their parents. “I love it so much because I got to pick it out!” one young girl was heard exclaiming, as she showed her new backpack to her mother.
The emotional heart of the day was also felt by the personal shoppers. For Jordan Gellman, who has volunteered as a personal shopper for three years, working one-on-one with the kids is an incredibly rewarding experience, especially when he sees the kids really enjoying the process.
“The first kid I [brought into the store] today, after he tried on his clothes he kept looking at himself in the mirrors,” Gellman shared. “Every mirror after that he’d give peace signs and he’d walk as if he was walking down a runway. Getting to see that excitement was really cool.”
NCJW is a progressive volunteer-driven organization that has “been dedicated to improving the quality of life for women, children and families and to safeguarding individual rights and freedoms both in the U.S. and Israel.” Made up of 90,000 members across the country, it is self-described as “a leading voice for justice in the United States” and provides support and solutions for the most pressing issues of the time.
By Adam Samuel
Adam Samuel is a journalist from Teaneck. He blogs at adamssoapbox.com.