Back-to-school shopping is a typical summer activity for families, but it can be a stressful time for those who struggle financially.
That’s where the Back 2 School Store steps in. The National Council of Jewish Women, Essex County Section (NCJW/Essex) organizes the annual event and asks local social service agencies, including New Community Corporation, to identify economically disadvantaged students in Essex County.
The children go on a shopping spree with a personal shopper where they receive brand new items for free in a one-day pop-up “department store.”
Victoria and Elijah Oluwatodimu participated in this year’s event July 30 and each had a large bag of items to take home with them.
Victoria, 8, enjoyed shopping. Among the items in her bag were a pink coat (her favorite color), shoes and a backpack.
“My favorite thing I got today is my clothes,” she said.
Elijah, 6, didn’t have just one favorite item. “My jacket and my book bag. And my shoes,” he said when asked what he liked best in his bag.
The siblings live in New Community Harmony House, a transitional housing facility for homeless families in Newark, along with their mother Oluremi and two younger siblings.
Oluremi said it was the first time her family participated in the Back 2 School Store.
“I’m so happy,” she said. “It really saved me money.”
This year, nearly 800 children got to pick out clothing items and shoes at the ninth annual Back 2 School Store. They also received personal care items like toothbrushes, hair brushes and lip balm; school supplies like pens, pencils and tape; and winter wear including hats and gloves.
New Community Outreach Coordinator Madge Wilson identified more than 100 children to participate in the event and arranged for buses to transport families to and from B’nai Shalom in West Orange, where it was held.
Ikenna Offiah Jr., 7, went to the Back 2 School Store through New Community. He showed off the new coat, shoes and backpack he’ll be taking with him to the second grade.
Ikenna Offiah Sr. thought his son would get pencils and books but was pleasantly surprised by all the items he was going home with.
“It was beyond expectations,” he said.
While the children shopped, their parents took advantage of a variety of services offered, including health screenings and financial advice. Members of the Bloomfield Police Department were also on hand to fingerprint children.
All the items provided to the children were bought new with donations NCJW/Essex received. Five hundred volunteers gave their time for the event, which ran from 9:30 a.m. to 4 p.m.