NEWARK, NJ — This September, back-to-school traditions in Newark are yet another casualty of COVID-19 as the school district begins the 2020-2021 school year remotely. 

As students and teachers greet another chapter of learning from behind computer screens, and schools scramble to bridge the digital divide, pens and paper have had little glory amid the hubbub. A partnership between the Newark YMCA, the New York Police Department’s Chief of Community Affairs and the State of New York Chaplain Federation has supplied backpacks full of schoolhouse essentials on Friday for some of the city’s families in need. 

“Outside of it being the YMCA, it’s also a transient place where people are displaced. A lot of people have lost their homes due to fire or other reasons, so it’s a great place for us to be,” said Hip Hop artist EricB, a member of the Chaplain Association of New York City. “I want to tell these students to just keep learning.”

Sign Up for Newark Newsletter
Our newsletter delivers the local news that you can trust.

For more than 300 families, the gesture, which also included donations of food, soap, deodorant and other essentials, was a much-appreciated benefit in such uncertain times. The backpacks carried away by school children of all ages offered folders, notebooks, writing utensils, and crayons for their at-home academic endeavors and beyond. 

YMCA resident Alkeyna Bilal said finding the items she needs for her two school-age daughters has been difficult during COVID-19. 

“When you don’t have any money to get supplies, it’s a blessing. With COVID, you don’t want to touch anything, you don’t want to talk to anybody, you don’t even want to go out of your room. You’re scared you’re going to get the bug,” she said. 

A legion of local organizations and police departments from Irvington and East Orange came together to collect and distribute all the donations. 

The volunteers, among them Chief of Community Affairs Jeffrey Maddrey, remarked that there was hardly a better way to commemorate the 19th anniversary 9/11 than by being out in the community during yet another frightening and difficult time. 

“People are still without employment, they are still losing so many loved ones, churches, and houses of worship are still not open or at full capacity. Anything we can do right now to support our communities is a positive resource, and it’s important,” Maddrey said.