Giving Back

"Back 2 School Store" Provides Relief for Families in Need

0bb08f97110f222ed70a_image.jpg
Credits: Mindy Gorin
69d77ee209faa1ec3d08_image__2_.jpg
Credits: Mindy Gorin
1b4a918e9d79868a8036_image__1_.jpg
Credits: Mindy Gorin
8cd678bba408194bb430_IMG_2423.JPG
Credits: Mindy Gorin
952c3dd802263a112165_IMG_2429.JPG
Credits: Mindy Gorin
78541cfd6ed3e5f5abf0_IMG_2438.JPG
Credits: All photos by Mindy Gorin.
0bb08f97110f222ed70a_image.jpg

WEST ORANGE, NJ - Nine-year-old Shalom Rouse roams through circular racks of colorful shirts, pants and jackets and tables loaded with backpacks, marble notebooks, calculators and other school supplies. He picks out some clothes and tries them on for size in a spacious changing room in the back. When he emerges, he follows a volunteer to the other side of the space to where shelves upon shelves of shoes wait for “eager” shoppers to pick them out. Wherever he goes, he carries with him a blue-checkered backpack stuffed with pencils, notebooks, folders, and anything else he may need for the upcoming school year.

Although it may seem like it, Shalom's shopping spree did not take place at some new hybrid department/office supply store; rather, it took place at Congregation B'Nai Shalom in West Orange.

On Aug. 4, the synagogue was transformed into a pop-up department store for the National Council of Jewish Women's "Back 2 School Store" event. However, the Back 2 School Store was not open to the public—it was exclusive to economically-disadvantaged children from Essex County. With the help of volunteer personal shoppers, children in kindergarten through fifth grade had the opportunity to "shop" for free for back-to-school essentials and new outfits complete with shirts, pants, sneakers, winter clothing and even underwear.

Sign Up for E-News

With their children in the hands of the more than 400 event volunteers, parents and guardians were able to browse through the Gaelen Family Resource Center set up in the outer lobby. The Center's various booths provided information on healthcare, Medicaid, career opportunities, domestic violence programs and fire safety, among numerous other community resources.

"There are a lot of ways to make donations—you can give away clothes, you can give away money, you can give away school supplies,” said NCJW President Deborah Legow Schatz. “But what we do is we make this all about building children's self-esteem, and about choice. These kids shop one-on-one with a personal shopper, without their parents, no outside pressures, and they come in and they choose from brand new goods, anything they want. It's all about making that child feel special, feel good. It might be the first time they get their own shoes, so it's a big deal.”

The NCJW, which is located in Livingston, is a volunteer organization built on Jewish values that works to ensure individual freedoms and improve the lives of women, children and families. The Essex County Section of the organization is the largest in the U.S., with membership exceeding 3,200 volunteers. For the Back 2 School Store, the NCJW partnered with over 30 social service agencies to identify qualified families that would benefit from the shopping spree. 

Co-Chair Leslie Levinthal recounted an early experience as a volunteer at the Back 2 School Store: "My first year, I took a little girl around and I said pick a toothbrush, and she said, ‘Is it just for me? When I'm home, I share with my sister.'”

“That's what hooked me,” said Levinthal. “This is the face of the child that we serve—the child who has to share a toothbrush, the child who never gets a new coat, the child who never gets new shoes that fit—that's who comes here."

The New Community Corporation, a non-profit organization out of Newark that provides services in low-income housing, early childhood education, job development and healthcare, was one agency that partnered with the NCJW to identify underprivileged families and make the Back 2 School Store a success.

"It's really important as a child to feel confident and ready and excited for the new school year to begin," said Eunice Lee, director of communications for the New Community Corporation. "Everything here is new, it's in fashion, it's trendy."

New Community was responsible for guiding Shalom and his family to the event. As residents of Harmony House Transitional Living Facility in Newark, the Rouses were identified by New Community Board Member Madge Wilson, who alerted Shalom's mother, Mary, and registered her four age-qualified children to shop at the pop-up store. 

"Being a mom of nine, it's a blessing, but it's a struggle at times," said Mary. "In my home, I do believe in passing clothes down, but sometimes there's times where you can't do that—shoes get worn, clothes get torn. So events like this are able to help me fill those gaps where either I wasn't able to hand something down or at the moment, I wasn't able to purchase something. It lightens the burden of being financially strapped."

"What I like about this event is they will take the children themselves and let them shop for what they want,” said Wilson. “That's the unique part about it. The child can say, 'I like this, I like this,' and Mommy's not there to say, 'I don't want you to have this.' That's why you see they're so careful about the kids and bringing them back to their families. It's a great experience for them. It's a lot of chaos, but I love it."

"It's important to be able to be ready on the first day of school with all their supplies, the right color uniform, a decent pair of shoes where nobody's making fun of them, they don't feel inadequate, they don't feel left out, they're not being bullied, they're not feeling different or that they stand out in a negative way,” said Mary. “The first day of school, they're going to stand out and it'll be a positive way. It'll help their confidence in going through the rest of the year. It'll help them start out on a good note.”

Apart from the immense benefits for the parents and children, the volunteers were also able to gain something positive.

"When I see a smile on the parents' faces and the kids are hugging me and saying thank you, Ms. Wilson—I love what I do, because I enjoy doing things for people who are less fortunate,” said Wilson with a radiant smile. “So it's like Christmas here for our children because they can't wait to get home to open up the bags."

Shalom's personal shopper, Barry Marks, also found the experience fulfilling.

"I love this,” he said. “I've got five grandkids, and they don't let me go shopping with them. This is incredible.”

All photos by Mindy Gorin.

TAP Into Another Town's News:

You May Also Be Interested In

Sign Up for E-News

Verona/Cedar Grove

Students Demand Action to host 'Day of Action' on Columbine Anniversary at Brookdale Park

April 18, 2018

Students Demand Action Essex County will host “April 20 Day of Action: Gun Reform Education Fair” to educate and inform local students about the need for gun reform in our nation, inspire them to be activists, and honor the anniversary of the Columbine High School shooting.

The April 20 event will take place in at Brookdale Park (lower field by Bellevue entrance) in ...

Cedar Grove Police Blotter

April 16, 2018

April 8, 2018 – April 15, 2018

On April 9, 2018 at 7:50 a.m., Ptl. Jason Rivers responded to a Cedar Street address to take a report of a stolen motor vehicle. The vehicle was stolen from the driveway during the overnight hours. Patrolman Rivers was able to locate the vehicle using an application installed by the dealer on the owner’s phone. Detectives responded to that area in ...

Montville Residents & Twp Committee Ask for Resignation of Committeewoman over Facebook Post

April 15, 2018

MONTVILLE, NJ – The Montville Township Committee voted to censure Committee Member June Witty for a personal Facebook post she made on April 8 which compared Democrats to Nazis. All four members of the five-person committee asked for her resignation.

The post, a chart which states that Nazis believed in “media mind control,” “no guns,” abortion, and ...

Cedar Grove Elks induct New Officers

April 20, 2018

CEDAR GROVE, NJ – On Saturday March 24, 2018 the Cedar Grove Elks Lodge #2237 installed its new officers for the 2018-2019 fraternal year. The ceremony, which was open to members, was held at the lodge on 405 Bowden Road. The roster of the new officers includes (seated: L to R) Ken Dransfield, Lecturing Knight; Tom Casella, Loyal Knight; Michael A. Corbosiero, Exalted Ruler; Antony ...

'The Sting' shimmers and shakes at Paper Mill

‘The Sting ‘slithers and shakes at Paper Mill Playhouse

By LIZ KEILL

MILLBURN, NJ – In a premiere production of “The Sting,” Harry Connick Jr. commands the Paper Mill Playhouse stage in Millburn.

Based on the sensational Paul Newman/Robert Redford film in 1973, the 1930s plot centers on a con game and gambling, sometimes on a train between New York and ...