by Vivian Henoch

Getting ready for that first day back to school doesn’t get any better than this:  On Sunday, August 20, the National Council of Jewish Women, Greater Detroit Section (NCJW/Greater Detroit) teams up with JCRC/AJC and nine local social service agencies to host an estimated 500 elementary school children and their families at the Back 2 School Store, a one-day annual event, which runs from 9:30 am to 6 pm in Detroit. The event also includes an Interfaith Health Fair with free health screens for the children’s parents and guardians.

An NCJW program, now in its fourth year in Detroit, the pop-up store is set up with the look and feel of a department store, where each child is invited to “shop” with a volunteer personal shopper who assists with the selection of new school clothing, including two shirts, pants, socks, underwear, a winter coat, hat, gloves and even cool new sneakers. Every child also selects a new backpack, fills it with school supplies, personal care items and then chooses a new book. The back-to-school gift to each child is estimated at a total value of $180.

One day only, by invitation only

“The children come to us from pre-qualified, low income homes — all pre-registered for the event by selected social service agencies,” explains Sallyjo Levine, co-chair of the event along with Sharyn Gallatin and Lauren Koenigsberg, “Our goal is to provide the items the children need to start the school year on the right foot – and to come to class with enthusiasm and self-esteem – ready to learn with the positive attitude and tools they need for success.”

“Every item of clothing we provide is new,” says Sallyjo. “As a rule, we shop for the event according to our best estimate of the number of children we have registered, their ages, genders and sizes. And we promise every child who walks into our store that they will walk out with everything on the list of items we provide — or that, if we’re missing an item in their size, we’ll get it for them within a week or two. And beyond filling their shopping bags with goodies, we’re committed to give each child – and their family members – our individual and loving attention.”

The nine agencies participating in the event this year include Alternatives for Girls, Brilliant Detroit, Detroit Parent Network, Downtown Boxing Gym, Matrix Human Services, Orchards Children’s Services, People’s Community Services of Metropolitan Detroit, Southwest Solutions, and Spectrum Human Services. For agencies bringing more than 50 students to the event, NCJW/Greater Detroit is subsidizing bus transportation if needed.

It takes a community

An NCJW program that has continued to grow each year, the Back 2 School Store is made possible by more than 250 trained community volunteers and the generosity of sponsors that include DeRoy Testamentary Foundation, Marjorie & Maxwell Jospey Foundation, Mandell and Madeleine Berman Foundation, and The Village Club.

As NCJW/Greater Detroit Executive Director Susan Gertner observes,“Fundraising, shopping, training volunteers, and set-up for the store itself – all involves a year-round effort, scores of suppliers, vendors and community volunteers who contribute one way or another. It’s a labor of love.”

“I signed up as a worker bee four years ago,” says Sallyjo, “but like so many volunteers, I have stepped up to a larger commitment to the program. Many of our volunteers sign up for one shift, and then stay for the day. Because when you see the looks on those kids’ faces, knowing that some of them have never in their lives been able to go into a store and select an article of clothing, you realize that’s not the life we know. It’s such a pleasure to watch them enjoying the opportunity they have  been given.”

Sharyn Gallatin, an attorney in private practice specializing in special needs advocacy, has served as co-chair of NCJW’s Back 2 School Store since its inception in 2014. “I became active with NCJW almost immediately after moving to Detroit five years ago and when I was approached about co-chairing the Back 2 School Store project, I jumped at the chance. It’s an amazing project – one that has been close to my heart from the day I started working on it,” Sharyn observes. “One of the reasons the work of NCJW speaks to me is that it gives me the opportunity to support an organization that’s responsible for helping advance the ideals of women, children and families. The Back 2 School project in particular works with families and children to help put them in a better place than they ordinarily would be before they start school. “

The Interfaith Health Fair

Organized by the JCRC/AJC as an adjunct to the Back to School Store, the Interfaith Health Fair opens on-site access to potentially life-saving medical screenings and health care referrals for parents and guardians while their children shop. Physicians and health care providers of all faiths will volunteer their services, and social workers will be available to assist with referrals to direct service agencies. Henry Ford Health System, the Huda Clinic, Karmanos and Kindred Healthcare are participating in the health fair. United Way 211 will be giving out information; attorneys from Legal Aid will be available for parents; and Home Depot will provide free home care items.

For over 125 years, NCJW/Greater Detroit volunteers have worked to advance the well-being of women, children and families by providing comprehensive services and policies that enable all children to succeed in school.  In addition to the Back 2 School Store, NCJW annually donates backpacks and school supplies to homeless children in Oakland County, provides tutoring and reading to children at Detroit’s Coleman A. Young Elementary School and produces a Teen Yellow Pages resource guide. To learn more about NCJW/Greater Detroit, or to sign up to volunteer, please visit