Back to school can be a rough time of year for many, but a community-wide effort is making things just a little bit easier for some Newark families.
Spearheaded by Central Ward Councilwoman Gayle Chaneyfield Jenkins, and through combined efforts of generous sponsors, the Central Ward Back to School Backpack Giveaway is back this year, and bigger and better than ever.
Already in its fourth year, the initiative provides struggling families with peace of mind and this year, more than 1,100 backpacks—all filled with brand new school supplies—will be given away to a host of families throughout the Central Ward and beyond.
The event, which will take place on Saturday, Sept. 2, at Newark’s Branch Brook Park, will feature music, food, face painting and, new this year, bumper cars.
Sponsors of the event include Chaneyfield Jenkins, Verizon, the Martha and Joe Chaneyfield Foundation, Newark Charter School Fund, Newark Downtown District, Panasonic, Whole Foods Newark, Sterling Securities, Shoprite, Capital One, Blimpie, Nestle Waters, Women in Newark, Sauder's Law LLC, Bayway Catering, Yo Pat, Savvy Marketing Entertainment Group, The Party Rental People and Nutany Publishing Company, LLC.
According to Khalil Nass, chief of staff for Chaneyfield Jenkins, the initiative has grown each year.
“Each year, it’s gotten bigger,” Nass said, noting last year’s donation of 850 backpacks. “This year, we brought in all these sponsors who have really helped.”
Nass said Chaneyfield Jenkins is committed to helping kids throughout the city.
“She believes that it is our duty to provide for the residents,” he said. “She has a great interest in the kids. Sometimes it’s a hardship for parents trying to get their kids school supplies. That’s why we reach out to our sponsors.”
Nass said recipients are identified in a variety of ways.
“We blanket the Central Ward,” Nass said. “We connect with community centers and organizations, developments, and are active on social media. We really do target the Central Ward kids, but all are welcome.”
Network Operations Senior Manager at Verizon Business Monique Perry said that Verizon, which has donated approximately 125 of the backpacks, was excited to be a part of the initiative.
“I’ve been wanting to do something to help the community,” Perry said. “I’m from Newark, so Newark is near and dear to me. No one had to ask me to do this—I wanted to. I grew up in the inner city; I know what it feels like not to have.”
Besides Newark, said Perry, Verizon will also be handing out backpacks in Camden, Trenton and Paterson.
“Everyone at Verizon was great,” Perry said, who noted that Verizon will have a table set up at the event.
Nass said that he’s anticipating a great turnout.
“This year, we’re pretty excited,” he said. “This is more than just passing out backpacks. We kind of wanted a last hurrah right before school starts. It’ll be a fun day for everyone.”