The National Council of Jewish Women’s 13th annual NCJW/Essex Back 2 School Store (B2SS) was mobile again for the second year. The program brings much-needed school supplies and winter clothing to about 1,007 children in financial need in Essex County. Each student received a bundle which included many brand-new items — backpack, school supplies, winter coat, shirt, pants, winter hat and gloves, a package of socks and underwear, several face masks, personal care and dental hygiene items, and a book. The store distributed 1,007 winter coats, shirts, pants, hats, and gloves; 3,191 face masks; 5,035 pairs of socks, and 7,049 pairs of underwear.
“Last year, we took the Back 2 School Store mobile and were able to get these items to the children throughout the fall,” the B2SS co-chairs said. “This year, we pivoted again and found a way to get these much-needed backpacks, school supplies, personal care items, and clothing to the children.”
Pre-covid, local students, with the help of volunteers, were able to shop cost-free at the one-day pop-up shop. However, with the store on hold this summer, volunteers used a vacant storefront in Livingston as a warehouse. There, they filled backpacks that were personalized for each child based on information they’d gotten beforehand, listing their sizes and preferences.
“We could not have helped as many children and families this year without the efforts of our enthusiastic and tireless volunteers, who shopped, assembled and packed individually chosen outfits and school supplies over several days,” Penina Barr, president of NCJW/Essex, said.
Volunteers also sorted the items for delivery to 36 partner agencies throughout Essex County – including in Newark, Bloomfield, Montclair, East Orange, and West Orange . Those agencies distributed the items directly to the children.
Essex County Transportation provided the vehicles, which were coordinated by Livingston Councilman Michael Vieira.
The Back 2 School Store is supported by the generosity of more than 50 sponsors and countless donors, who provided financial assistance and in-kind donations. According to the B2SS chairs, “We put out a call to local dentists for dental care items and they responded so significantly that we were able to give every child two toothbrushes, a few tubes of toothpaste, and some dental floss. Hopefully the children will start the school year with even brighter smiles behind their face masks.”
The cost of school supplies often is overlooked as a major annual expense. In Essex County alone, 21 percent of households with children lived below the poverty level in 2017. NCJW/Essex believes that no child should start off the school year already behind and has put together the B2SS for the last 13 years to meet this need. All the items given away at the B2SS are free to children and their families. For more information, go to ncjwessex.org.