Hundreds of Children, Hundreds of Smiles —
Over 600 Children Shop Cost-Free at NCJW/Essex Back 2 School Store
Walls completely lined with new patterned backpacks, rows of brand new sneakers, and racks and racks of clothing – this was the scene at the National Council of Jewish Women, Essex County Section, Back 2 School Store (B2SS) on Sunday, Aug. 2nd. In its 7th year, the B2SS outfitted more than 600 economically disadvantaged children and utilized over 400 volunteers this year alone. The children were able to shop cost-free for brand new attire, school supplies and personal care items, encouraging a well-equipped and confident start to the new school year.
Joan Gabin of Livingston, who has been a member of NCJW/Essex for almost 39 years, has volunteered at the B2SS since its inception. “The task to get this all up and running is monumental. It makes me so proud to be a part of it.”
The day began with a ribbon cutting ceremony for dignitaries and supporters of the store led by B2SS co-chairs Leslie Lavinthal, Lesley Greenstein and Paula Green. This year’s B2SS would not have been possible without major support from several corporate sponsors including Janssen Support Group, the Miller Family Foundation, Ronald McDonald House Charities, Eagle Rock Self Storage, Tradeweb Markets LLC, TJX Foundation and University Hospital.
Following the ribbon cutting, the store was opened to a long line of excited children, eager to enter the store and pick out brand new outfits including pants, shirts, winter coats, gloves, socks, undergarments and hats. The children, referred through over 30 social service agencies, were greeted by their own personal shoppers and then the student-volunteer duos began their shopping excursions. First stop: a hallway of colorful new backpacks! Then each child received a warm welcome into the 4,000 sq foot space, hosted at B’nai Shalom in West Orange. By the end of the spree, each child had a big bag of clothing in tow and a backpack filled with personal care items and school supplies.
“Some of the kids say, ‘Wow, I’ve never had my own toothbrush before!’ They have to share with their siblings,” said Laurie Schuftan, B2SS volunteer and NCJW/Essex member. “It is mind boggling what we take for granted every day.”
Ranging from college freshman to grandparents, the passion each volunteer brought was undeniably visible through the smiles of hundreds of children who filled the store. With three volunteer shifts throughout the day, each volunteer underwent specific training on how to optimize the shopping experience for the child in need. 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.
While the children were selecting school supplies and their brand new wardrobe, parents and guardians visited the Gaelen Family Resource Center. Here, blood pressure screenings, glucose tolerance testing, eye exams, information on proper dental care and more helped to identify individuals at risk for health concerns and educate them regarding follow-up care.
With shoes that fit just right and smiles from ear to ear, the children exited the store and were reunited with their parents. “Thank you all so much, this is amazing,” said one mother while she departed with her two children. “God bless.”
“This is such a worthwhile endeavor,” Gabin said. “Regardless of race, religion – when there is a need, we like to go there and help.”