Make the Road NY hosted its annual back-to-school event for the borough of Queens last Saturday in Jackson Heights, giving out free backpacks and school supplies to anyone who came out.
With many families continuing to face financial hardship due to the pandemic, the event has become even more important as a resource for community members with the school year quickly approaching.
Vanessa González, an intern at Make the Road NY, was behind the scenes at the event. She could be found endlessly pulling bookbags of all colors from a huge stockpile in the back and neatly arranging them on the table in the front, putting them on display for kids to choose exactly which color and style they wanted.
“I’m just getting the bags ready,” she said, making light of her herculean effort.
“We’ve been here since 10 a.m., and we’ll be here until 5 p.m. giving out backpacks to the community,” added Julissa Bisono, co-organizing director with the group, meaning they would be staying three hours later than anticipated, highlighting just how extensive the effort truly was.
This year, the giveaway also featured an IDNYC truck where people could go to receive the city-issued ID if they lack identification; and a mobile vaccination van so that people who have not yet been vaccinated could get their shot, effectively making it a one-stop shopping site with the goal being ease of access.
Bisono stressed the importance of community members having an IDNYC card, explaining that it gives people access to benefits that they otherwise wouldn’t be able to receive, which is especially important right now amid the pandemic.
“They also need the ID to be able to apply for the excluded workers fund and get more benefits,” she said.
Geovanny Andaluz from Jamaica brought his two daughters, Alejander, 11, and Valeria, 13, to the event to get some new bookbags for the upcoming school year.
Andaluz spoke about how pleased he was to receive the free school supplies, but also was really grateful that he was able to get his older daughter vaccinated at the same time.
“Of course I’m very grateful for this event, especially with the pandemic. And going back to school soon, my 13-year-old daughter was able to get vaccinated today.”
The girls posed for a picture with the new backpacks of their choosing, one red and one that was Star Wars-themed, looking more than ready to ace their studies.
Others making use of the variety of services being offered included Cinthia DeJesus from Corona, who arrived with her two children, Scarlett, 10, and Carlos, 14.
Scarlett, who chose a trippy tie-dye print for her backpack, has already been to Make the Road, where she has been taking English classes, yet another one of the services offered by the organization.
Scarlett’s English teacher at the organization, Stephen Kochenash, acted as a translator when the Chronicle spoke to Scarlett’s mother.
“This has helped her a lot, especially during the pandemic and with her children in other ways to — like in English classes and with other services that they offer,” Kochenash said. “She’s also here today to get vaccinations so it is very convenient.”