A volunteer-based nonprofit set up at an East Village community center at the Jacob Riis Houses on Tuesday to ensure that neighborhood kids were going back to school equipped and in style.
New York Cares, the volunteer network partnered with Henry Street Settlement to host a backpack giveaway. Volunteers for the nonprofit, including the glamorous winner of the Miss New York USA contest, Rachelle DeStasio, distributed hundreds of new backpacks packed with school supplies to help prepare residents and students on the Lower East Side for the upcoming school year.
“I’m thankful for this program,” said Rose Rutigliano, who came with her two third-grade granddaughters. “Very, very thankful.”
Rutigliano said that she had just gone back-to-school shopping with her children and any extra help goes a long way.
“They grow so fast. It adds up,” she said of the cost of shopping for the first day of school.
The event at the Riis Houses marks the fourth year that New York Cares has organized backpack giveaways. It’s part of the group’s annual back-to-school campaign called Stand With Students, which involves distributing over 17,000 backpacks across the city.
Sapreet K. Saluja, executive director at New York Cares, said the school supplies drives are an example of a large-scale problem in the city that is “super solvable.”
“When we talk with parents, they talk about making these unbelievable choices between meals for their families and their kids having basic school supplies. And we know that you gotta be ready when you enter the classroom to pay attention, absorb. And if you don’t have some of the basics, it’s pretty hard to be ready,” Saluja said.
Saluja said she hopes the event shows the young students that they’re valued and that others are invested in their future. One aspect of New York Cares’s overarching mission, she said, is about building human connections between volunteers and their community.
The event at the Riis houses built off of the connection that Henry Street Settlement had made with families on through Jacob Riis Cornerstone, an afterschool and summer camp site that sits in the ground floor of one of the NYCHA buildings it’s named after.
“This community center is specifically here to serve the residents of the Jacob Riis houses,” said David Garza, president and CEO of Henry Street Settlement. “It becomes a destination for families and children who want to have a healthy, safe place to learn to play to engage in sports.”