Students Shop at Back to School 'Store'
Nearly 500 economically disadvantaged kids received clothes, school supplies at a fair sponsored by the Essex County Section of the National Council of Jewish Women.
Third-grader Edgar Urena was so excited about receiving a new pair of jeans and sneakers at the National Council of Jewish Women’s Back 2 School Store Sunday afternoon that he wore them home. Held at the Gaelen Family Resource Center inside B’nai Shalom synagogue in West Orange, Edgar was one of 500 economically disadvantaged youngsters who took part in the third annual event.
“I’m really happy,” said Maria Urena, Edgar’s mother. “I’m really appreciative for this opportunity. It’s really a blessing. It’s funny too because when he goes to the store with me, he can’t choose what he wants. But he did so well here, because his shopping guide said he has great taste.”
Youngsters from 20 participating agencies showed up at B’nai Shalom by the busload and by car with their parents. Volunteer shopping guides greeted and escorted Edgar and every other child who took part in the event.
Armed with a list that was outlined with each youngster’s individual needs and sizes, they entered the store. The first stop was a table filled with colorful knapsacks. After selecting one, each child then went about filling it with an array of school supplies. Kids also received a large bag that they packed with clothes, coats, shoes, underwear, hats, and gloves.
“The child gets to choose what they really want,” said Jill Sorkin Johnson, president of the Essex County Section of NCJW. “It’s their own choice. That’s what makes this store so different. They get to pick the clothes, colors, and everything else without anyone else’s influence.”
More than 300 volunteers assisted with escorting the kids during their shopping, restocking products, and helping with fittings.
While the children shopped, their parents visited tables set up by participating organizations. Exhibitors included Big Brothers Big Sisters, American Red Cross, UMDNJ (which offered blood pressure and cholesterol screenings, glucose testing, and foot care and dental care information), Advocates for Children of NJ, the UMDNJ Van-New Jersey Children’s Health Project, the Linda & Rudy Slucker NCJW Center for Women, and Rachel Coalition (an organizations that provides support and services for victims of domestic violence).
The agencies through which the kids are chosen are located in cities such as West Orange, Newark, Bloomfield, Montclair, Livingston, and East Orange. Some of the agencies include New Community Corporation, St. Rose of Lima, Safe House, and Hollow Day Care.
"The number of people they get to participate is incredible,” said Livingston Mayor Rudy Fernandez, who was there for the ribbon cutting and to greet volunteers and attendees.
“The way the economy has been, this event fills such a need for people. It’s important that in just three short years, the NCJW here in Essex County came up with such an amazing program. The things that we don’t think about on a regular basis are important for these kids. Things like having their own toothbrush and shoes. We need people to continue to give money, but we also need people to give of their time.”
Fernandez was joined by Assemblywoman Mila M. Jasey and other dignitaries from Essex County.
Cathy Silverman, executive director of the local NCJW shared that the Essex County section was inspired to begin the store because of the work that had been done by the section in St. Louis, MO.
“We thought it would be great to do it here,” she said. “We spent a year planning it. One thing we’re proud of is that the volunteers who give their time get to see first hand how their work benefits the people we’re trying to help.”
Each year, the number of participants keeps growing. “We had about 240 kids the first year, 380 the second and 500 this year,” said Johnson.
"Donations come from individuals, foundations and organizations. It wasn’t hard to get people involved. The agencies were eager to become involved. Each year it gets easier,” Johnson added.
To learn more about the Back 2 School Store and how you can help, visit http://ncjwessex.org.