NEWARK, NJ - If you asked one of the smiling kids bolting around Branch Brook Park what brought them out Friday night, they might have said watching the film "Captain Marvel" under the stars or wanting to jump around in the three inflatable bounce castles.

If you asked the parents, it would be the for the free backpacks that contained essential school supplies to see the kids through the 2019-2020 school year.

“Last year they gave out some preschool workbooks that were really helpful for my son,” said Christina O’Rama who was accompanied by her son Aaron a Kindergartener and daughter Deborah who will start preschool. “I really wanted to take advantage of those materials.”

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The back to school night was organized by North Ward Councilman Anibal Ramos and sponsored by the Anibal Ramos Jr. Civic Association along with The North Ward Center, the Hispanic Law Enforcement Society of Essex County, the Hispanic Firefighters Association of Newark and a host of elected officials.
 
The giveaway is an "ongoing effort for our office and our civic association to keep close ties with the people that live in our neighborhoods and find unique ways to help,” said Ramos, whose volunteers handed out hundreds of backpacks to children.

“We have a lot of children in our city that don’t have the tools they need to have a successful academic year.”

The backpack giveaway has turned into an annual event upon which many parents depend.
While backpacks were the featured item of the afternoon for students ranging from different elementary level age, other supplies such as pencils, colored pencils and even workbooks were distributed.

Shamaila Ahmad and Chanda Pal were two moms who attended the event with their daughters, both students at Roberto Clemente Elementary School. Like O’Rama they found last year’s donations to be a great help to their kids.

And for other families, the event was focused on friends and community and an opportunity to have fun and celebrate back to school with students from the North Ward and beyond.

“It’s a nice kickoff to the school year and it’s for families across the city to get together and show back to school can be fun too,” said Vanessa Foster who came with her three daughters.

Also in support of Friday’s back to school giveaway was state Assemblywoman Eliana Pintor Marin, who said the event offered an opportunity to connect with parents and students across Newark.

“For all of us as elected officials this is a great thing,” Pintor Marin. “The touch of a new backpack, the opening of a new notebook, that first sharpened pencil; the smallest things for the kids is so big and I think these are the moments we cherish the most.”

Saint Michael's Medical Center, whose employees donated school supplies for the backpack, was on hand to provide glucose and blood pressure screenings.

Other elected officials who sponsored the event included state Sen. M. Teresa Ruiz, Assemblywoman Shanique Speight, Essex County Executive Joseph DiVincenzo Jr., Essex County Sheriff Armando Fontoura, Mayor Ras J. Baraka, Council President Mildred Crump, Councilmen Luis A. Quintana and Carlos M. Gonzalez.