Abigail Ptacek fondly remembers the day she first donated backpacks to the North Bellmore School District, in the summer of 2012.
She walked to Martin Avenue Elementary School, accompanied by her grandparents, Sue and Bob Ptacek, pulling a red wagon that held seven backpacks (and some of Abigail’s American Girl dolls, which came along for the ride).
All these years later, her efforts to give back to those in need have not only continued, but grown tremendously. This school year, the district received 54 backpacks from Ptacek, 17, and her grandmother, packed with just about anything a student may need throughout the school year.
“I’ve watched this young lady grow up,” North Bellmore Superintendent Marie Testa said. “Every September, end of August, I receive a phone call from Miss Abigail, as 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.”
How it started
“I think I was always raised to give back,” Ptacek 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.”
Ptacek isn’t a resident of North Bellmore. She lives in Massapequa, where she’s a senior in high school this year, and very involved in art and music programs, as well as BBYO, a Jewish youth group. Her grandparents live just a block away from Martin Avenue school, and Sue was an art teacher at Wellington C. Mepham High School in the Bellmore-Merrick Central High School District.
Before deciding to donate backpacks to North Bellmore schools, Ptacek said, she and her grandparents donated to a different community organization. “There was a local charity doing a backpack drive,” she recalled. “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.”
That was in 2011, and after the bad experience, her grandfather called Testa.
“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 recounted. “And she said, ‘Absolutely.’”
Bob Ptacek died a few years ago, but Abigail and her grandmother have continued the trio’s hard work. “I still continue to do this with her — she’s my biggest supporter,” Abigail said. “Everything is stored in her house. It’s so amazing what we can do together.”
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 routinely stuff them with everything from crayons to folders.
“They’re filled with pretty much everything the kids need for school,” Ptacek said.
All told, Ptacek has donated over 600 backpacks to the district, which are given to students in need, Testa explained.
“Once we receive the backpacks, our principals, social workers, school nurses, psychologists — the helping members in our community — we ask them to distribute them as they see fit,” she said.
Each of the district’s five schools, four in North Bellmore and one in North Merrick, receives a supply of backpacks. This year Ptacek expanded her efforts even further, Testa said, donating 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.”
Continuing her efforts
Collecting supplies is a yearlong process, Ptacek said. Even though she just dropped off this school year’s donation, she’s already started compiling items for next year.
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.
Ptacek will be a college freshman next year, but intends to keep donating. “I’m hoping that I’ll stay local — and if I don’t, it’ll happen,” she said. “I’ll find a way to make it happen.”
“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.”
“It’s always been such a joy to come back,” Ptacek 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.”