Hundreds of economically disadvantaged children in Essex County shop at no cost for brand-new school items   

WEST ORANGE, NJ – The faces of hundreds of economically disadvantaged children living in Essex County were lighting up on Sunday as they shopped at no cost for brand-new items for school at the ninth annual National Council of Jewish Women (NCJW)/Essex Back 2 School Store at B’nai Shalom in West Orange from 9:30 a.m. to 4 p.m.

More than 900 children (1000 registered) were assisted by more than 500 NCJW volunteers to select necessary items that will help them start the school year off with confidence, style and a smile.

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“We set it up so that the last child to go through the store has the same amount of choices as the first child,” said Livingston resident Shari Harrison, president of NCJW/Essex. “The children select the items they need with the help of his or her own personal shopper. It’s all about boosting their self-esteem and independence.”

With the assistance of the “personal shopper” volunteers, children had the opportunity to select a new shirt, pants, winter jacket, sneakers, underwear, socks, hat and gloves. Children also chose a brand-new backpack, school supplies and personal care items.

“Everything they get is purchased brand new,” said Harrison. “It’s all made possible by the generous donations from our sponsors.”

While the children shopped, the onsite Gaelen Family Resource Center offered parents and other caregivers helpful information about community resources and career services, as well as free health screenings and health information offered by Newark’s University Hospital.

“We are pleased to provide the public with vision, blood pressure and glucose screenings at no cost at community outreach activities such as this one,” said Sara Pena, community outreach coordinator at University Hospital.

In addition, representatives from the Rutgers School of Dental Medicine and the Cancer Institute of New Jersey at University Hospital were on hand to provide family members with healthcare advice.

“This event is truly a labor of love for our NCJW volunteers,” said Harrison. “It’s our organization’s biggest community-wide event every year, and we make sure it works for everyone.”

Since its inception in 2009, the Back 2 School Store has benefitted nearly 4,700 children and utilized the services of more than 3,200 volunteers. Thousands of children from kindergarten through fifth grade who have been identified by social service agencies and community organizations have benefitted from the school supplies, clothes and personal care items that they “shopped” for in a pop-up department store set up just for them.

Grants and financial contributions from individuals, families, and businesses enable NCJW/Essex volunteers to shop for brand-new clothing and supplies in major retail stores and wholesale operations.

During his welcoming remarks at the opening ribbon-cutting ceremony, B’nai Shalom Rabbi Robert Tobin complimented the NCJW/Essex for organizing “this wonderful event so well.”

“We can all learn a lot from you as to how to run an event that helps so many people in need with such great organization and training of volunteers,” he said.

When it comes to organizing the event, Harrison said the event co-chairs did a “remarkable” job in pulling everything together. The co-chairs were Jill Sorkin Johnson, Marjorie Zucker and Karen Cherins.

This year, children had a new opportunity to pick a book of their choice from the Tabak & Fass Book Nook.

“There is a definite need for an event like this in Essex County, where 22 percent of households with children live below the poverty level,” said Harrison. “It’s so important to make the children who came here feel special. That’s why we restock the inventory throughout the day. We want to make sure children who come later in the day don’t feel the racks with items have been picked over.”

With more than 3,000 members, the NCJW Essex County Section is the largest of the more than 100 NCJW Sections around the country. For more information, log on to www.ncjwessex.org.