NEWARK, NJ – More than 1,000 students who attend Great Oaks Legacy Charter schools received vital learning supplies as part of a distribution event hosted by school officials and community organizations this weekend. 

The distribution event reached nearly 1,800 Great Oaks students and their families who had been learning remotely for over a year since the pandemic began.

Following the school’s return to in-person instruction on April 12, the event provided both students who opted for virtual learning and those returning to the classroom with backpacks, personal protective equipment, food and other items to support them during the pandemic.

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In addition to a school supply giveaway, Great Oaks CEO Jared Taillefer explained that the distribution event helped parents, students and staff gain some much-needed interaction after being separated for more than a year. 

“We want to bring people together to give them the things they need to be safe and provide them access to all of the things the community has to offer that they may be in need of,” Taillefer told TAPinto Newark. “We are also meeting the needs of our families. We have been away for so long that people need to get comfortable getting back in-person and seeing each other.”

With event tables set up in the parking lot at Great Oaks Legacy Charter High School on Crawford Street, support staff and community organization leaders were also on hand to provide additional resources to families. 

Joined by the South Ward Promise Neighborhood, Project Ready, Leaders for Life and the Boys & Girls Club of Newark, the local groups helped connect families to a variety of local services such as maternal care, housing support and public health information. 

“We had been hearing from our families and community partners that families had needs, and our community partners wanted to help us get back to school as safely as possible,” Taillefer said. “Today is a really good example of how community can serve community.”

Among the hundreds of individuals who showed up to the distribution event, Eric Serrano, a 10th grade Great Oaks student whose been learning remotely, commended the school for its efforts to reach out to the community. 

“It’s going to help a lot,” Eric said. “There’s some stuff that we are missing that we need right now.”

By reaching out to students during the pandemic, Eric’s mother, Susan, noted that this weekend’s event went above and beyond a giveaway. With music playing over loudspeakers in the parking, the event also allowed students to safely interact and partake in various activities. 

“It’s a really great thing they’re doing, especially for the kids because when’s the last time they have been outside [together]?” Susan said. “To actually communicate and get to see the students to see each other and the teachers again - it’s beautiful.”

Beyond helping students get back on track with their schoolwork with a supplies giveaway, the event also helped reach out to families in direct need of resources as well.

One parent, Velisha Ogarro, said that Great Oaks officials have given essential meals to students that other members in the school community have struggled to provide during the pandemic.  

“There are a lot of families who are having a hard time right now, so it's a great thing that they’re doing,” Ogarro said. “I know from other parents who I have spoken to that they didn’t even have food, so luckily the school provided things like breakfast and lunch for the kids.”

By helping students and their families particularly learning fully remote, Great Oaks Dean of Students Cory Cuffee said that reaching them during this time is critical.

“It’s a struggle if they’re home because they [parents] have to support their kids all day, every day now. It feels good providing them support while they’re at home that we would still support if they were here in the building,” Cuffee said. “Just as long as they’re able to still function as a family.”