As Analiz Arribalzaga, four, of Newark, finished her back-to-school shopping, she couldn’t wait to show her mother, Melanie Arribalzaga, her “purchases” — including a new winter coat with matching hat and gloves, sneakers, a new fall outfit, plenty of school supplies, even toiletries.
Everything was free, including her personal shopper, Marjie Zucker of Short Hills, courtesy of the National Council of Jewish Women, Essex County Section.
The organization ran its second annual Back 2 School Store — offering free school supplies and clothes for disadvantaged kids — at B’nai Shalom, a Conservative congregation in West Orange, on Sunday.
Some 500 school-age children, up from 300 in 2009, were signed up when the “store” opened for business at 11 a.m.
Tables were stacked high in every direction — with pens, pencils, notebooks, crayons, and other school supplies; shirts, pants, sneakers, socks, and underwear; winter coats, hats, and scarves; and soap, shampoo, toothbrushes, toothpaste, and hand sanitizer.
Each child was assigned a trained NCJW volunteer as personal shopper. They roamed through the store in pairs, sometimes squeezing through the racks of merchandise and other patrons.
More than 250 volunteers helped throughout the five-hour day.
“Last year was our first Back 2 School store. We didn’t know how we’d be able to manage the flow. This year, we’re much more adept,” said NCJW Essex County Section president Jill Sorkin Johnson. “We had more shoppers buying; we have more volunteers willing to go with children. We have more [of] everything to handle the increase this year.”
All 13 agencies — whose clients were the families of the shopping schoolchildren — that participated last year returned for a second year. Seven new agencies joined this year.
All clothing and supplies are donated by NCJW; volunteers shopped for the items in advance to stock the store.
As Analiz moved among the various stations, her load grew heavier, as Zucker added sneakers, slip-on shoes, socks, underwear, and more. The room buzzed ever louder as it grew more crowded.
By about halfway through their trip, Zucker had come to know Analiz’s taste. She could predict just which winter coat Analiz would pick (ivory with a cream, pink and brown, and leopard interior and fur-trimmed hood). Analiz couldn’t wait to model her ivory corduroys and shimmering pink waffle knit top to match.
She also was excited to open her new dictionary, running her hand across the words. (Dictionaries were donated this year by the Rotary Club.)
By the end, Analiz was showing early signs of shop-‘till-you-drop syndrome — easily distracted, her eyes were beginning to glaze — until she caught sight of her mother. She hugged her, said, “That was fun!” and started pulling out her goodies to display.
After hugging Analiz, Zucker said goodbye and moved on to help another young customer. “It’s tiring, but you feel so good at the end — you’re filled with positive energy. Look at Analiz: She’s so happy, she has all this great stuff to start off the year. How could you not feel good?” said Zucker.
Analiz will use all of her new school purchases at Ridge Street School, where she will be entering kindergarten this year. Her mother found out about the store through La Casa de Don Pedro, a community organization that runs the aftercare program Analiz attends.
“It’s awesome!” said Analiz’ mother, who brought her niece to the program last year. “The kids love it, and it takes a little bit of pressure off — I know she has the things she needs to start school with.”