‘Back to School’ Store set to help kids this July

BY LOIS CAPLAN

It’s a tough job working at a department store. Especially, if you’re not being paid.

But that’s what people who rush to volunteer at the Back-to-School Store do every year. The National Council Of Jewish Women-St. Louis Section’s one day event is modeled on a department store set-up where elementary school children from low-income families are outfitted with clothing and school supplies. I know what fun and how satisfying it is as I have volunteered for the Back-to-School Store and loved every minute of it.

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At this year’s event on Sunday, July 27 at Central Reform Congregation (which has hosted the “store” since its inception in August, 2001), 875 pre-selected children will receive a new outfit of clothing, underwear, socks, shoes, winter coat, gloves, hat, school supplies, backpack, personal care items and a book of their choice. Each child has an adult volunteer “personal shopper” to help him or her shop for clothing in their favorite colors and styles. While the kids are shopping, parents and siblings may take advantage of programming in the areas of child health, safety, nutrition and vision screening in the “Family Resource Center”.

Since its inception seven years ago, NCJW’s Back-to-School Store has served over 3,300 elementary school children who have been identified by social service agencies, churches and community service organizations as kids whose needs are not being met by existing services. The cost of the program is estimated to be $112,000 this year or $150 per child served, and is funded by donations of new merchandise, local companies, foundations and cash gifts. What a bargain this is for the community — to boost these kids’ self-esteem and enthusiasm for the school year by giving them the tools they need, clothing and supplies, to focus on learning. The Back-to-School Store on July 27 opens its doors at 8:30 a.m. at Central Reform Congregation, 5020 Waterman and closes at 6 p.m. The day is divided into three shifts – 8:30 to noon, 11:30 to 3 and 2:30 to 6 but you may select the time that suits your own schedule. My granddaughter Claire loves working with the kids so much that she signs up for the entire day. Volunteers needed are personal shoppers; people with special skills like photography, foreign language, sign language, food service, shoe fitter, and experience with disabled children. You may also request a sit-down job such as registration. There is a special need for men to help little boys in the dressing room and for volunteers over 18 who turn out to be great personal shoppers. Younger than 18- year-old volunteers as well as those over are needed to help set up the “store” from July 21 to July 24 and to break it down on July 29, 30 and 31. You may sign up on line at www.ncjwstl.org or by calling the NCJW office at 314-993-5181.

WILMA MESSING, who died in March at age 88, was known in the community as an outstanding philanthropist. She was also beautiful, charming, gracious and thoroughly lovable. In fact, everyone loved “Willie” as she was affectionately known. She and her late husband “Bud” were major contributors to the arts in St. Louis including St.Louis University where they funded what is now known as the St. Louis Literary Award whose recipients include Tennessee Williams and Eudora Welty. They also established the Roswell and Wilma Messing Cultural Arts and Education Department of the Jewish Community Center.

Personally, I believe that the love of Willie’s life was and always would be the NCJW, St. Louis Section. She was President of the Section from 1963 to 1965 and, I recall as I was on the Board, she shepherded the proposal to build a senior citizens building for low-income men and women from a concept to bricks and mortar. That concept is now Crown Center for Senior Living which is home to some 250 older adults.

Recently NCJW-St. Louis Section received a check for $224,450 from the Messing Family Charitable Foundation. According to Wilma’s children, Russ Messing and Noel Hefty, “Mom loved the work NCJW does, their mission and their dedication. She felt that these funds would help continue the good works of the organization.” This generous grant will be added to the endowment fund of NCJW to be used as the organization determines. I know for sure that Willie would be delighted to help fund the Back-to-School Store if it is ever needed for that purpose.

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