EDUCATION

Backpack giveaway provides financial relief for families

BY Lauren Wanko, Correspondent |

It’s back to school week for New Jersey students. Many of whom will be launched into the new school year with new fully-stocked back packs supplied free to kids whose families are still chasing the dream. Lauren Wanko reports.

At the New Brunswick HUB Teen Center, kids happily go through their new, free backpacks.

“When I was young I didn’t have the opportunity to have a book bag, so we all got together, staff wise, and we said let’s make this drive,” said recreation specialist Walter Virgil Sr.

Now in its ninth year, the New Brunswick Community Backpack Giveaway, run by the city’s recreation department, draws hundreds of parents and children at the start of each school year. Students receive book bags and supplies on a first come, first serve basis. When NJTV News stopped by, the line was wrapped around the building.

“Parents across America are getting their kids ready to go back to school,” said Dale Erquiga of Communities In Schools. “If you are a family that lives in poverty, you face a really challenging situation right now, because we know the cost of what we call backpack supplies increases each year.”

When it comes to school supplies and extracurricular activity fees this school year, parents can expect to pay $662 per child in elementary school, which is a one percent increase compared to last year. The cost for a middle school student is $1,001, a 4.6 percent increase. The cost for a high school student is $1,489, which is $9 less than last year. This data is according to the 2017 Huntington Bank Backpack Index in cooperation with Communities In Schools.

“It seems really small, but as these prices increase each year, if you have more than one child in your family, those costs just compound. And, if you are a family who lives that close to the poverty line, you’re making choices about lunch or school clothing or back pack supplies,” said Erquiga.

Melissa Bell received two backpacks for her boys.

“It’s relieving. It’s refreshing to be able to get it,” said Bell.

Walt said looking at the faces of the families and children is the great part about it.

When 6-year-old Cesar was asked about getting a new back, he replied, “It feels great!”

The New Brunswick HUB Teen Center offers backpacks for kids and teens of all ages in the city. The bags are filled with supplies they’ll need in school — everything from crayons and glue for elementary school students and calculators for high school students. The bags are also filled with school snacks.
Public and private community organizations donate the supplies, according to New Brunswick Public Information Officer Jennifer Bradshaw.

“New Brunswick is a city that has a particular focus on health care because of the agencies we have here and the network of social service agencies. Properly preparing kids for school, for education, is part of that health care that lends to their overall success and wellness,” said Bradshaw.

“They can come to class, set their books down with their bookbags and sit back and relax and learn,” said Virgil.

During NJTV News’ visit, the New Brunswick HUB Teen Center gave away more than 400 backpacks and countless supplies. In return, staffers and volunteers saw hundreds of happy children and grateful parents.

Chasing the Dream: Poverty and Opportunity in America is a multi-platform public media initiative that provides a deeper understanding of the impact of poverty on American society. Major funding for this initiative is provided by The JPB Foundation. Additional funding is provided by Ford Foundation.