Back to School Store

In this 2018 file photo, volunteer Joy Sterneck leads a young shopper around National Council of Jewish Women’s Back to School! Store, held at Temple Israel. The annual event helps provide back to school essentials for children in need. 

Given the coronavirus pandemic and need for social distancing, this year’s Back to School! Store won’t look like it has in the past, but the National Council of Jewish Women-St. Louis promises it will still occur on Sunday, July 19. 

The organization realizes the confidence youngsters often feel when they walk into their classroom armed with a backpack filled with new notebooks and pencils as well as an outfit that they specially selected for the beginning of school.

So the Back to School! Store will go on, but it will look and feel quite different than in years past. Gone will be personal shoppers and thousands of children, parents and volunteers mingling in one large space at Congregation Temple Israel. Replacing it will be contactless distributions of school supplies and other essentials in the short term and additional distributions of clothing later in the year.

And the really big news: “This year we will be able to serve 2,000 children, which is 500 more than in the past,” says Ellen Alper, executive director of NCJW-STL.

“Since some expenses will not be incurred because we don’t have a physical store, we felt it was important to get supplies out to as many children as possible,” she added.

As Alper and others explain, roughly 2,000 backpacks will be pre-filled with all kinds of school supplies, personal care items and age-appropriate games and activities and delivered to the College Hunks Movers warehouse in Olivette. On July 19, volunteers will drive to the warehouse where “the hunks” will load their trunk with the backpacks. Then the volunteers will deliver the backpacks to one of 65 partner agencies, which in turn will distribute the backpacks to their school-aged clients and members. 

“We want this process to be safe for all of our volunteers,” said Alper, in explaining NCJW’s partnership with College Hunks. “In the short term, we are getting kids what they need to go back to school — if, in fact, they are going back to school — but we know they need school supplies even if education continues online at home.

“Parents have had to prioritize spending on food and necessities, so these school supplies are even more important given our new normal.”

Alper says clothing items like winter coats, shoes and apparel will be distributed throughout the year as new, safe distribution methods are identified and deployed.

“We need to stay true to our mission,” said Alper. “We know kids won’t be served in the traditional way, but we still have a responsibility to get these essential products out to the kids.”

Community members and supporters of the Back to School! Store can get involved by sponsoring a child or volunteering to serve on the committee or the day of the event. To learn more about the Back to School! Store and how to get involved visit: www.ncjwstl.org/back-to-school-store/. Volunteer sign up will open in mid-June.

News and Schmooze is a weekly column by Editor Ellen Futterman. Email Ellen at: efutterman@thejewishlight.com