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500 K-5 students given the opportunity to load up on school supplies

| Sunday, July 24, 2016, 11:00 p.m.
Justin Merriman | Tribune Review
Elyse Eichner, right, shows Sophia King, 5, a photo of her in a new winter hat at the Kingsley Center in Larimar on Sunday, July 24, 2016. The National Council of Jewish Women, Pittsburgh section hosted the annual Back 2 School Store, which provides 500 elementary school students with free clothing, backpacks, and school supplies for the coming school year.
Justin Merriman | Tribune Review
Damian Gilliard Jr., 5, tries on a new backpack at the Kingsley Center in Larimar on Sunday, July 24, 2016. The National Council of Jewish Women, Pittsburgh section hosted the annual Back 2 School Store, which provides 500 elementary school students with free clothing, backpacks, and school supplies for the coming school year.
Justin Merriman | Tribune Review
Gionna Curry-Jones, 9, of Unionstown, takes a look at herself in the mirror as she tries on a new winter hat at the Kingsley Center in Larimar on Sunday, July 24, 2016. The National Council of Jewish Women, Pittsburgh section hosted the annual Back 2 School Store, which provides 500 elementary school students with free clothing, backpacks, and school supplies for the coming school year.

Sweltering temperatures didn't hamper Tamiah Williams' spirit as she picked out a new pink winter coat at the Kingsley Center in Larimer on Sunday morning.

Of course, she also needed matching hat and gloves to complete her new cold-weather look, even as the mercury climbed into the mid-90s.

“Oh, they're adorable,” said volunteer Rhoda Dorfzaun as Tamiah, 8, of Brighton Heights smiled at a bright striped hat-and-gloves set.

This summer won't last forever, and Tamiah will be ready for winter after attending the Back 2 School Store hosted by the National Council of Jewish Women, Pittsburgh Section.

The event gave 500 K-5 students an opportunity to load up on school supplies and other essentials — all for free — at a time when getting ready for back to school is becoming increasingly expensive.

The most recent “backpack index” data available from the Arlington, Va.-based Communities in Schools advocacy group and Huntington Bank suggest the cost of equipping K-12 public education students for school increased nearly 10 percent between 2014 and 2015.

The highest costs were attached to high school students, but families with students in elementary school faced nearly $650 in average back-to-school costs.

That's a financial commitment that can add up, especially for families with more than one student.

“A lot of families have multiple children, and back-to-school clothing is really a burden for them,” Kingsley Association building services manager Michael Smith said.

Section President Laurie Gottlieb said her organization plans to grow its back-to-school event each year to help more families throughout the Pittsburgh area. Every dollar saved on back-to-school shopping frees up money for something else, she said, and there's nothing more valuable than sending students to class with new clothes, book bags, school supplies and confidence.

“That positivity carries forward in everything they do,” Gottlieb said.

More than 100 volunteers were on hand Sunday to help students select everything from new sneakers to new books. Dozens of organizations were involved.

Pittsburgh Local No. 1 Firefighters donated and helped with coats. Partner agencies such as Best of the Batch Foundation and Squirrel Hill Community Food Pantry helped connect families with the cause.

Corporate and foundation sponsors included Huntington Bank, Giant Eagle, Little's Shoes, The Jack Buncher Foundation, The Philip Chosky Charitable & Educational Foundation and The Kingsley Association.

More than $100,000 was raised for the event, included $32,000 from private donors, Gottlieb said.

Rasool Munshid, 40, of Brookline said he was thankful for the generosity on display Sunday as two of his five children shopped.

He and his family arrived in Pittsburgh three years ago from Iraq, where he and his wife were teachers.

Now he works part time as a housekeeper and said school costs can be difficult, especially when young children start classes for the first time. Still, he was happy his children have a chance to attend school in the United States.

“This is a dream for anyone,” he said. “I see my kids in the future as the very best.”

Michael Walton is a Tribune-Review staff writer. He can be reached at 412-380-5627 or mwalton@tribweb.com.

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