Person of the Year

Abigail Ptacek: A beacon of hope and generosity in North Bellmore


Over the past decade, 600 students have been touched by the good work of Abigail Ptacek.

Since 2012, she has delivered backpacks, school supplies and more to children in the North Bellmore School District. An inspiration to the people around her, particularly district officials, Ptacek’s good deeds, charitable personality, and commitment to community, have left a mark on all who know her.

For her efforts to ensure that all students have access to school supplies, year after year, the Herald is proud to name her its 2023 Person of the Year.

Ptacek, 17, is not a Bellmore native. Her connection to the town stems from her grandparents, Sue and Bob Ptacek, whom she credits for her charitable ways. Her grandma lives just a block from Martin Avenue Elementary School in North Bellmore, the school that Ptacek brings her annual donation to.

Her grandfather died a few years ago, but along with her grandmother, who was an art teacher at Wellington C. Mepham High School in the Bellmore-Merrick Central High School District, Ptacek has remained devoted to giving back to children in the community.

“I think I was always raised to give back,” she told the Herald. “Is it good for the community? Is it good for the environment? I’ve always been involved in community things — and my grandparents were a very big part of that.”

In 2011, before Ptacek began donating to North Bellmore schools, she attempted to donate to a different drive. “There was a local charity doing a backpack drive,” she recounted. “They were just collecting, you know, special supplies, backpacks, and we had gone there for a couple years. One of the years, we walked in, the staff was just incredibly rude — and it hurt me, because I was so little. I thought I was doing a really good thing.”

Afterward, Ptacek’s grandfather contacted Marie Testa, superintendent of North Bellmore schools.

“He just said, ‘Can you guys use some backpacks? Can you guys use some school supplies? Do you need some school supplies for the kids?’” Ptacek recalled. “And she said, ‘Absolutely.’”

Ptacek never look back. For the past 11 years, the district has graciously accepted her donations.

Compiling all of them is a nearly year-long effort, she explained, and everything gets staged in her grandmother’s basement. While she and her grandmother do receive monetary donations from family and friends, and sometimes additional community groups like the Bellmore Lions, the effort to purchase and assemble all of the supplies is solely their own.

They buy backpacks in a variety of colors and styles, so there’s something for everyone. They also pore over supply lists for every grade level, and stuff them with everything from crayons to calculators.

“I’ve watched this young lady grow up,” Testa said. “Every September, end of August, I receive a phone call from Miss Abigail, as a I call her, and her grandmother, Sue, who reach out to me and say, ‘It’s backpack time.’ She makes me want to be a better person.”

Earlier this school year, the district received 54 backpacks from Ptacek, and since 2012, she said, she has donated over 600 to North Bellmore students. Each of the district’s five elementary schools, four in North Bellmore and one in North Merrick, receive backpacks.

“Once we receive the backpacks, our principals, social workers, school nurses — the helping members in our community — we ask them to distribute them as they see fit,” Testa explained.

This year, Ptacek expanded her efforts even further, and donated classroom supplies for new teachers.

“We brought a couple of the teachers that work at Martin Avenue down, because she drops the items off to Martin Avenue, and they were just so grateful and impressed,” Testa said. “She’s an impressive young woman. She has a depth and soul about her that belies her years.”

Jillian Estelle and Lauren Fasano, who teach third and fourth grade, respectively, at Martin Avenue, were two of the teachers that received a donation from Ptacek. The gesture was touching, they said, and completely unexpected.

“It just gave me such a warm welcome to the district as a whole,” Estelle said. “To be recognized as a new teacher, I thought that was really, really thoughtful of her. Her products are based around the kids, and giving those backpacks is so important. The fact that she also thought about new teachers and the supplies that we need as well, really touched my heart.

“She’s an incredible person,” Estelle added. “She has such a great soul and heart. To even think about us is really amazing. She deserves everything that comes her way.”

Fasano said the donation made her cry. “The humility she has, that she does this out of the goodness of her heart — that she’s continued it and stayed with it — to have this as something that’s so natural to her, it’s absolutely amazing,” Fasano said. “We have our worries, and we have our stress, but there’s just nothing that compares to students and people who are in need.

“I walked into the room, and I was brought to tears,” she continued. “We couldn’t control our emotions. It was just so overwhelming in the best way possible.”

Janet Pollitt, the assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction at North Bellmore, is often around when Ptacek drops off her donations. She said it’s been a pleasure watching her grow over the years.

“Abigail is just a kind soul — a true humanitarian,” Pollitt said. “She’s a person who exhibits empathy for others, and it’s just been wondrous over the years, watching her get so much joy and fulfillment out of serving others.”

The day Ptacek brings her donations to the school is always exciting, Pollitt said.

“We will get so excited, you know — we rush into the board room with her, we take a picture, and celebrate her and the good work that she does,” Pollitt said. “We’re so honored that she chose us — the district — to benefit from her good deeds.”

Ptacek will be a college freshman next year, but intends to keep donating. She said it’s been a pleasure being able to serve North Bellmore.

“It’s always such a joy to come back,” she said. “You come back, you see the same secretary that’s standing there, opening the door for me — she runs, gives me a hug. I love that it’s kind of like a second family to me.”

“She’s a humble person,” Testa said. “She’s, I would say, a powerhouse of an individual. She’s left a legacy of love for us. My entire team, we’re inspired by Abigail.”