The start of the school year will be extra special for area kids in need, thanks to two White Plains-based service organizations and Back-to-School Clothes for Kids, as well as various sponsors.
“The first year that we were involved with the program, we clothed 41 children,” said WJCS Director of Corporate Outreach Meryl Lewis, a Hastings resident. “I was so eager to get involved when I heard Connie Kennedy, the founder of Back-to-School Clothes for Kids, speak at the Westchester Corporate Volunteer Council.”
WJCS has participated in Back-to-School Clothes for Kids for the last eight years. This year, approximately 450 children served by the agency in Mt. Vernon, Yonkers and Peekskill were recipients of new clothing and supplies for the starting school of the coming year.
Social workers nominate children with the greatest need that are served by different agencies (for example, WJCS) that work with the program.
Back-to-School Clothes for Kids works several ways. Sponsors provide packages with clothing and school supplies for kids from pre-K through seventh grade. Those who wish to donate each receive a profile of a child that lists his or her first name; the grade the child will be entering; and their clothing sizes and color preferences.
Each child will then receive a package containing three outfits: three shirts or blouses; three pairs of pants or a combination of pants and skirts for girls; three sets of underwear and socks; one sweater or a sweatshirt. Each child also gets a backpack with school supplies, as well as sneakers or a coat.
Children from eighth grade through high school are treated to a “SWAT” (Shop With A Teen) Night, where sponsors take them to shop for the aforementioned essentials. Sponsors and kids visit stores such as Sears, Old Navy and Foot Locker on these excursions. The average cost per child, whether it is through a clothing and school supply package or “SWAT” Night, is approximately $200.
Kennedy, 59, who lives in New Rochelle, established the program 25 years ago. An article in the Sunday New York Times Magazine gave her the inspiration for it.
“I was reading about kids living in run-down welfare hotels,” she said. “I got in touch with a social worker in the Bronx, and we started with brand new clothing for 10 kids, then the next year it was 25. It just grew from there.”
Two White Plains businesses that sponsored children under the auspices of WJCS for Back-to-School Clothes for Kids for the coming school year are and retailer .
“This year, our company sponsored seven children,” said Cuddy and Feder Office Manager Martha Levy of Eastchester. The law firm has participated in the program for the past 20 years.
“It’s wonderful when people can volunteer for this program, especially now when the economy hasn’t been that great, which makes it harder to donate,” she said.
Children who benefit from the program can be caught in a variety of unfortunate circumstances, such as families falling on economic hard times or losing a home to a fire, for example.
“It’s very rewarding to be able to give to those who are less fortunate,” Levy said. “Kids are innocent bystanders in so many ways.”
Neiman Marcus has also stepped up to the plate for more than 10 years.
“This year, we sponsored a total of nine kids, three of them teens,” said Julie Tortelli, 38, Executive Assistant to the Vice President and General Manager of Neiman Marcus at the Westchester. “Our stores really enjoy donating to charity, and this one is so worthwhile. This year was unique, as we raised money for clothing and school supplies and the rest we donated for a SWAT Night.”
Other businesses that participate under WJCS’s umbrella include Webster Bank MasterCard.
One family served by WJCS that Back-to-School Clothes for Kids helped this year resides in Mt. Vernon. Mom Liz has two children, a boy, 6 and a girl, 12. The children participate in Amazing Afternoons, one of WJCS’s after-school programs. Each received a clothing and school supply package, much to their delight.
“We want to see the program continue on with much success,” said Lewis. “It really helps put these kids on a somewhat equal footing with other kids, and that’s important.”
Those who wish to donate to Back-to-School for Kids can contact Meryl Lewis at WJCS at 914-761-0600, extension 22.