NCJW helps young shoppers suit up for school

Photo: Bill Motchan
From left: Bryson, Amirah, Jordan and Kanaya.

STORY & PHOTOS BY BILL MOTCHAN, SPECIAL TO THE JEWISH LIGHT

The first day of class is a big deal for any child. This year, about 1,400 elementary school-age kids from low-income St. Louis families will be ready for the first bell thanks to the National Council of Jewish Women-St. Louis. 

The annual NCJW Back to School! Store made its yearly visit to Temple Israel on Sunday (July 29) and, at the end of an exhausting day, hundreds of kids and volunteers were all smiles.

The Back to School! Store is set up much like a standard department store. It provides each child with clothing, school supplies and personal care items. The event, which started here in August 2001, has since supported more than 13,000 children. 

Each student is paired with an NCJW adult volunteer who assists with shopping for clothing and supplies. Youngsters try on shoes and coats as they would in a real store. Social services agencies, churches and community service organizations select the qualifying children. NCJW obtains the supplies and clothes through grants and sponsors.

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The Jewish Light caught up with several volunteers and students after they finished shopping to learn what the experience was like. In the case of the students, only first names are used for privacy reasons. 

We asked: What was your favorite part of today’s Back To School! Store? See their answers below.

Students

Bryson, 10 years old: “The gloves I got are really good, and I liked my new shoes and my coat. And I really liked Steve, my shopping partner.”

Jordan, 9: “Today I got paper and crayons because I like to color. I got notebooks for math and all of my other classes, and I needed a lot of notebooks!”

Amirah, 10: “I liked the shoes. I had a good time, and it was a lot of fun shopping because I was able to go with my godsister who was there for the first time because she’s in kindergarten.” 

Kanaya, 9: “I liked getting my shoes and matching them with my clothes and my coat and hat. Miss Cheryl helped me pick out gloves to match my shoes.”

Volunteers

Amanda Packman: “My favorite part is that I had a role in closing the achievement gap because when students feel more prepared for school, they’re able to achieve higher, and we’re helping to close that gap.”

Chris Bomze: “The best part is that we’re able to really help significantly to an underserved population. The kids are happy to have all these new school supplies and clothes, and it’s just wonderful to watch them.”

Rep. Tracy McCreery: “I think I get more out of it than the students do. It’s a great reminder to me about what the community’s needs are and how we can address these needs. The government doesn’t always have the ability to step in and fill these needs, so organizations like NCJW step in and fill a critical gap. It warms my heart to know the store continues to grow in year 18, and I hope it keeps growing and growing.” 

Sarah Martin: “I see more and more resources cut for families in need. We all know what it’s like when you go back to school and you’re excited about your first day. It’s important for any child to have new shoes and school supplies. I’m thrilled that we can provide these resources to people who might not otherwise be able to get them.”