(Courtesy of NCJW) The 11th Annual NCJW/Essex Back 2 School Store (B2SS) brought much more than just grins on Sunday, July 28, as hundreds of children went shopping at a one-day pop-up store designed to help children in financial need in Essex County, New Jersey.
“I can’t wait to get new shoes! I want sparkles on them!” exclaimed a young girl to her volunteer personal shopper as they entered the store with her new cheetah print backpack opened and ready to fill. Inside the gym, walls were lined with rows of brand-new coats, sneakers and clothing. This year NCJW/Essex celebrated its 11th year of the B2SS, outfitting over 800 children with the help of more than 600 volunteers. The children shopped for brand-new clothing, school supplies and personal care items, encouraging a well-equipped and confident start to the new school year.
The day started with a ribbon-cutting ceremony for dignitaries and supporters of the store led by NCJW/Essex President Lesley Greenstein of Summit, NJ. B2SS co-chairs Andrea Mintz, Stacey Laken and Laurie Schuftan, all Livingston residents, joined with dignitaries to cut the ribbon. What followed was a long line of excited children eager to enter and pick out their new items. The children, referred by over 35 social service agencies, were each greeted by a volunteer personal shopper who assisted them through their shopping journey. This year’s event was held at Joseph Kushner Hebrew Academy in Livingston, New Jersey.
While the children shopped, parents and guardians visited the onsite Gaelen Family Resource Center where they could speak with representatives from organizations such as Advocates for Children NJ, the Essex County Family Justice Center, the NCJW/Essex Center for Women, Planned Parenthood of Metro NJ and the Rachel Coalition. University Hospital, a major participant at the Gaelen Family Resource Center, offered free health screenings and health information throughout the day.
The cost of school supplies is often overlooked as a major annual expense. Families that are living in poverty struggle with the rising cost demands of public education. In 2018-19, parents paid an average of $637 on school supplies for elementary school children. In Essex County alone, 21% of households with children lived below the poverty level in 2017. NCJW/Essex believes that no child should start off the school year already behind, and has put together the B2SS for the past 11 years to meet this need. All of the items given away at the B2SS are free to children and their families.
“The entire experience was extraordinary from beginning to end,” said Debra Goldsmith, a volunteer personal shopper from North Caldwell, NJ. “Interacting with such eager children and being a part of the positive environment that NCJW/Essex creates at the Back 2 School Store is inspiring. I’m so glad to be a part of it.”
Ranging from college students to grandparents, the passion each volunteer brought was undeniable through the evident excitement expressed from 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!