A truly successful event involves expert planning and coordination. The National Council of Jewish Women, Essex County Section exemplifies this process with the annual Back 2 School Store (B2SS), celebrating its 10th anniversary this year.
Every summer, NCJW/Essex creates a ‘pop up” one-day store that outfits economically disadvantaged children in Essex County with brand new clothing, school supplies and personal care items to start school on a positive note. A look behind the scenes explains why this event is so successful.
Each year the B2SS is chaired by three capable and detail-oriented volunteers who oversee the massive undertaking, enabling hundreds of children to attend the store. This year’s co-chairs, Karen Cherins of West Orange, and Stacey Laken and Andrea Mintz, both of Livingston, have been holding monthly planning meetings since Fall 2017. They oversee 30 active volunteers who work on more than 10 subcommittees year-round including clothing, school supplies, child recruitment and site management. “We already have over 1,000 backpacks in storage for this summer’s event,” said Andrea Mintz, who explained that as of March, 2018, all the clothing, including coats, packages of socks and underwear, school supplies and personal care items, have already been purchased.
Purchasing for the B2SS is accomplished through a combination of grants and generous donations from members, supporters and foundations. Volunteers purchase new, popular brands of sneakers, coats, clothes and backpacks in a variety of styles and colors, either online or at in-store sales. To understand the scale of this effort, Karen Cherins explained, “We will purchase 1,100 sneakers for 800 children so that each child has a choice, whether they enter at 9:00 am or 3:00 pm. Our local storage facility is currently overflowing with new merchandise and supplies as we prepare for this summer’s event.” This year, thanks to a generous donation from a longtime NCJW/Essex member, each child will receive two books, one fiction and one non-fiction, from Scholastic. Spanish language books will also be available for bilingual children.
Throughout the year, a Child Recruitment subcommittee works in partnership with 35 local social service agencies to carefully select children who will participate in the B2SS. Forms are prepared for each child indicating their age and sizing for clothing and sneakers. This year’s goal is to prepare 800 children (K-5) to start the school year with confidence, style and a smile.
The growth of the B2SS has necessitated the biggest change to occur in 10 years – a move to a new location, the Joseph Kushner Hebrew Academy in Livingston, NJ, which will afford access to the gym, library, multipurpose and computer rooms, cafeteria, and classroom storage. The extra space will present new logistical challenges but the volunteers are up to the task, making sure that every aspect of the event runs smoothly.
As each child enters the B2SS, they will be registered and matched with a volunteer to help them select the items they want. “It’s all about the child making his or her own choices,” explains Cherins. “Part of the success of the B2SS is to empower children. If a little girl wants a purple coat, a pink hat and blue gloves, she can choose them.” While the children shop, parents and caregivers are able to visit the Gaelen Family Resource Center which offers health screenings and other community services.
When the B2SS opens its doors this summer, it will be the culmination of the year-long behind-the-scenes effort of planning, buying and coordinating which is necessary to ensure its success. “This is such a rewarding experience for our volunteers, especially when they see the children’s smiling faces,” said co-chair Stacey Laken. “The Back 2 School Store gives children a great start to the school year and a little boost to their self-esteem in the process.”
This year the NCJW/Essex Back 2 School Store is seeking 500 volunteers to make it a success. Bilingual volunteers are encouraged. All registration is online. To register, please visit www.ncjwessex.org and click on Back 2 School Store.