As a child, Beth Kodner saw the same public service announcements about poor children in Africa that the rest of us did. “But it wasn’t until I was a little older that I realized there were kids here in St. Louis who’ve never been to the dentist, or are ashamed to go to school because they have no shoes, or can’t afford schoolbooks,” Kodner says. “NCJW’s Back-To-School! Store makes an immediate, concrete difference in these kids’ lives.”

    Kodner has volunteered at the ‘store’ (actually a one-day event) for the last nine years, serving as everything from a personal shopper to co-chair. “Personal shoppers escort the kids around and make sure they get whatever they need, including school supplies, toiletries, brand-new clothes, shoes and a winter coat,” she says. “They can pick out whatever colors they want—we’re just there to make sure they get the right size. Making their own choices helps build their self-esteem.”

    Along with her role at the store, Kodner is active in NCJW’s advocacy efforts, and recently traveled to Washington, D.C., to meet with legislators. She also supports NCJW’s Kids Community Closet. “Kids outgrow those shoes and clothes fast,” she explains. “At the community closets, they can get new stuff or replenish their school supplies whenever it’s necessary.” 

    Kodner has three children, a 5-year-old and 3-year-old twins. She teaches part-time at Shirlee Green Pre-School at Congregation Shaare Emeth, and also runs a calligraphy and stationery business, How Inviting, from her home. “Like I needed something else to do, right?” she says with a laugh. “But I really enjoy volunteering and would never give it up. I was raised to give back.” Her mother and father were active at their synagogue, and her mom helped out at school, Kodner recalls. “They taught me it’s our responsibility to help others, so I always gave a dime to help the poor, and, as my allowance increased, a quarter, then a dollar. I hope to set the same example for my kids.”

    Kodner says even the busiest mom can find time to volunteer. “Just decide what you’re passionate about, and go for it,” she says. She calls the Back-To-School! Store “one of the most incredibly rewarding experiences I’ve ever had. The smile on those kids’ faces when they leave, carrying bags of goodies that are bigger than they are, is the ultimate reward.”