Photo: Bill Motchan
The contents of the National Council of Jewish Women St. Louis’ Back to School! Store (BTSS) backpacks could provide a glimpse at the challenges students will face this fall.
For the second year in a row, the Jewish organization has adjusted its annual event, which provides free school supplies and clothing, because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Not only that, but the organization has added new supplies that the group said students now need.
Before the pandemic, children and parents who could not afford to purchase items before school started would visit the NCJW event and pick out items.
This year, more than 100 volunteers will deliver the supplies inside 2,000 backpacks to the organization’s partner agencies, which will distribute supplies to their clients and members, according to a news release.
“NCJWSTL is very proud of the Back to School! Store program. Over the past 21 years, this program has provided over 22,000 children with the new clothing and school supplies that they need to begin the school year on a positive note,” Ellen Alper, CEO of NCJW-STL stated in a news release. “In an abundance of caution, due to the fact that students served through BTSS are ages K-5th grade, and not yet eligible for COVID-19 vaccination, NCJWSTL is implementing the same, proven model utilized last summer.”
The organization will conduct the distribution process on Sunday, Aug. 1 at Congregation Temple Israel.
In addition to the traditional clothing and school supply items, the organization is now offering period products; headphones for distance learning; reusable water bottles; Bombas socks; hat and glove sets; coloring books on financial literacy; and two new books on racial justice and celebrating diversity written specifically for elementary students.
The period products include kits from Dignity Period, a St. Louis-based organization that provides menstrual education and supplies to girls in Ethiopia, where girls drop out of school at a higher rate than boys, according to the organization.
Alper told the Light that St. Louis girls also face unique challenges.
“These kinds of products are not paid for by food stamps — they are not eligible – and what we are hearing from teachers and social workers is that there are girls in certain areas who are missing four to five days of school every single month because they don’t have the products that they need, so it’s totally impacting their education,” Alper said.
The headphones will help students who are learning at home; the water bottles will help students who return to in-person learning because they will not be able to use the drinking fountains due to the pandemic, Alper said.
The books on racial justice and diversity include, “What Do You See?” written by Julie Hundman, a retired teacher and NCJW member, which discusses “how we all look different, and it’s really a nice way for elementary-aged kids to learn about diversity,” Alper said.
For more information about the Back to School! Store, including details on how to get involved, visit: https://www.ncjwstl.org/back-to-school-store.