In 1999, Emily Trunzo, a former Scranton School District teacher, remembered the needy children she had taught, and suggested a "Back to School Project" to the Social Action Committee of Temple Hesed. Emily felt that every child should return to school with the special pride and dignity that comes from being like their friends on a special occasion, and she believed that a new outfit, as well as a book bag and supplies, would help the children to feel this pride.
Very often, children in need receive a Thanksgiving meal, and much is done at Christmas and Chanukah. But these same children return to school on the first day without even a pencil, and suffer the indignity of wearing their shabby clothes, while their classmates come with new backpacks packed to the brim and in spiffy new outfits.
During the course of the school year, members of Temple Hesed and other members of the Scranton community volunteered to sponsor a child. During the month of May, the children of the Religious School are brought into the project. The students bring new supplies to fill the book bags, with each class responsible for a different item each year. A table in the school overflows with gifts for the Temple's "adopted" children. The students embrace this special project with open arms.
In July, the program is set in motion. The names of children from the Jewish Family Services and the United Neighborhood Center are obtained by the Committee with the ages and sizes of the "adopted" children. Each child is assigned to an "adopting" family. The families then go about purchasing items of clothing, underwear, and socks, book bags and supplies for their child. Each Temple family has a story to tell about their experiences shopping for their "adopted" child. The experience is as fulfilling for the gracious shoppers as it is for the children who received the gifts.
Last year, the gifts were wrapped and presented to the Jewish Family Service and the United Neighborhood Center on Monday, August 28th. They were distributed to the children just in time for their first day of school.
The program has proven to be a huge success, with the adopting families and the adopted children each benefiting from the experience. Twenty-four of the children were from homeless families. They probably had not owned a new outfit that they can remember. The "Back to School" project provided forty children this year with a new outfit (or two), socks, underwear, a backpack, and assorted school supplies. As one single mother opened the packages, she said, "You mean there really are people who do this?"