It’s impossible to scroll through my current Facebook feed without seeing at least a few posts from parents complaining about the long lists of required school supplies and the expenses associated with them. We all know these “extras” can add up, but for families where budgets are already tight, the costs are sometimes prohibitive. Thankfully, a new Queens Jewish organization has been formed to address those needs and more for our local children.
Yaldei Minna was started in Kew Gardens just a year and a half ago by Yitzchok and Aron Katz and family – the same family that leads Tomchei Shabbos of Queens – l’iluy nishmas Yitzchok’s late wife, Minna a”h. As part of a family that was closely involved with local families with financial struggles, Morah Minna Katz realized that the children in some of these families struggled without new outfits for the holidays. True to the mover and shaker that she was known to be, she set out to help. According to their flyer, with “love and devotion, she single-handedly purchased and distributed new clothing to local kids.” She contacted manufacturers directly to get wholesale prices on fashionable children’s clothing and shopped sales. Then, she matched the clothes with families she knew who received Tomchei Shabbos packages and had children, and gave them new outfits for free. Morah Minna continued this pet project for years without any accolades or official organization. After she passed away less than two years ago, her family, thought, “why not continue Mommy’s project on a larger scale?” And thus, Yaldei Minna was born in her zchus.
Since Morah Minna had initially begun the project with yom tov clothing, the Katz family made connections with gemachs and store owners to expand their collection and began the operation last Sukkos. They opened up a store in Kew Gardens with racks of outfits in boys’ and girls’ sizes 5-18. The store itself is designed stylishly and colorfully, complete with dressing rooms and all the details to create a boutique shopping experience. Over that first Sukkos, they provided new, stylish yom tov clothing to over 175 neighborhood yeshiva children, free of charge. Two hundred more kids received suits, outfits, and accessories last Pesach.
Yaldei Minna didn’t stop with just holiday clothing. The Katzes figured since they have the space why not try to fulfill any other needs they can address? So they started researching anything else an elementary school-aged kid would need that costs a lot for their parents. A donor came to them with boxes of new winter coats, so they created the “Winter Coat Bash.” A few other donors came forth with school supplies, so the current event, “The Back-to-School Blitz” was born. The Yaldei Minna organizers are working hard to identify where the needs are the greatest, and they are adamant that each child deserves beautiful, new items – not just hand-me-downs – at no cost to the families. The Katzes emphasize that the goal is for a child whose family shops in their store to find the latest styles and to receive compliments on their brand-new, special yom tov outfit! “Shopping at the Yaldei Minna store should make kids and their families feel like a million bucks.”
When I see my neighbor in need, do I run to fulfill it?
Now, as the school year begins, the “Winter Coat Bash” and “The Back-to-School Blitz” are running simultaneously, providing new winter coats, hats and gloves, backpacks, school supplies and a Payless ShoeSource coupon for each child. So far, over fifty-five families have visited the Yaldei Minna store this season, sometimes with one child, and sometimes with many. Having the events operate at the same time means parents only have to bring their kids out shopping once, not twice – an experience most busy parents with young children would like to keep to a minimum. The store is currently decorated with an umbrella and cafe lights for the summer, and there’s no doubt they will come up with something new and exciting for the Sukkos sale.
According to Aron Katz, families are only referred to Yaldei Minna by the school administrators, and the registration process is computerized in order to avoid any discomfort that might result from a volunteer recognizing a customer’s name or voice. Parents can check store hours, set up an appointment, or learn about the next upcoming event, without ever having to pick up the phone.
There are already about twenty-five volunteers involved with the operation, from those who pick up clothing and bring them to the store or clean up after an event, to those who meet families in the store. The few volunteers who actually interact with shoppers directly are specifically selected from outside neighborhoods, to minimize the possibility of knowing one another.
The fact that this organization is basically only a year old shouldn’t be overlooked. Yaldei Minna’s quick takeoff should make all of us ask ourselves, “when I see my neighbor in need, do I run to fulfill it?” The Katz family hatched the idea to expand Morah Minna’s quiet operation in January 2015, and they already have a logo, a storefront, volunteers, and four annual shopping events.
The organizers of Yaldei Minna are looking for donations, whether monetary or from manufacturers or stores, to help build their selection. They are very open to the community’s ideas and assistance with expanding the shopping seasons and selections. For example, the next big idea Aron Katz mentioned is a toy store for Chanukah. Perhaps there’s someone in the Queens Jewish community who would like to help him develop it! Currently, the focus is on elementary school ages, but this range, too, could ultimately expand. “While there are already baby gemachs in Queens,” they said, “it’s always a bonus to be able to offer new newborn layettes, too.” As long as items are new, with tags or still in their boxes, the organizers at Yaldei Minna will surely match such a treasure with a family who could really use it, just as the organization’s namesake, Morah Minna, used to do.
Donations can be made at https://secure.cardknox.com/yaldeiminna or by mailing a check written to “Yaldei Minna” to 12901 Metropolitan Avenue, Kew Gardens, NY 11415. All donations are tax deductible.