Back-to-school drive gives back to the community


The Jamaica Square Improvement League, a local civic organization that works to serve the community in Elmont, donated over 300 backpacks to Elmont families at a back-to-school drive it held on August 21 at Hendrickson Avenue Park in Elmont.

As the vice president of the food pantry at Emmanuel Baptist Church in Elmont, Claudine Hall helped organize donation drives every Saturday for 18 months amid the pandemic. As cases of the coronavirus dropped, Hall was alarmed by the continuation of long lines at the food pantry.

“If they can’t afford milk and bread, how in the word can they afford back to school supplies?” Hall asked, explaining that the continued need for assistance she witnessed at the church’s food pantry moved her to launch the back-to-school drive for Elmont students and families in need. “God laid it on my heart to do a backpack give-away,” Hall added.

When she reached out to family, friends and local officials and organizations for help and donations and with a plan to donate backpacks with school supplies included, Hall did not expect a major response. Later, she was overwhelmed by the response: the community rallied to donate over 300 backpacks.

Hall described a massive effort on the part of a diverse range of community stakeholders to donate to the back-to-school drive: “There was an overwhelming amount of donations from the New York Islanders, local unions, coworkers, sorority sisters, friends and family, the Town of Hempstead, everybody just jumped in,” she said.

Extra supplies and backpacks were transferred from the Jamaica Square Improvement League to Superintendent Kenneth Rosner of the Elmont Free Union School District, who said that the extra supplies will be stored at the school district’s registration building and that supplies will be administered to families in need whose children register to attend school in the school district.

Because of the success of the inaugural event as well as the potential demand for supplies and backpacks from students seeking asylum in Elmont from other countries, such as Haiti and Afghanistan, Hall said she is considering holding the back-to-school-drive annually.

“This event shows what Elmont is all about,” Rosner said. “No one stands alone, and if you need help, the help is there.”

Hall said she saw the back-to-school drive as her responsibility as a civic leader.

“I am the product of a single-family home, my dad died at 10 years old, and my mom made plenty of sacrifices,” Hall said, “but I never had to want for anything, never wanted to anyone else to want for anything.

Born and raised in Elmont, Hall, who attended the Clara H. Carlson School as well as Sewanhaka High School, emphasized that the back-to-school drive was her way of giving back to the community that molded her into the person she is.

“I’m just making sure to give back to the community that made me the woman who I am today,” Hall said.

Nichola Gray, who is originally from Elmont and attended Sewanhaka High School but lives in Queens today, said the back-to-school drive was necessary as a result of the economic angst some families are experiencing during the pandemic.

“These days during the pandemic we have a lot of people who are unemployed and don’t have enough money to purchase school supplies,” Gray said. “So the fact that the community wants to have a back-to-school backpack drive is really important, and it’s fostering community for the folks in need, and that’s really important,” she added.

Gray donated supplies and helped organize backpacks and supplies on the night before the giveaway. She also helped distribute the backpacks at the event on August 21.

“I am a retired probation officer, so I want to get involved in any positive activity for the children,” Gray said. “I think it’s important for the community to know that officials care about them, and they care about providing them with necessary supplies,” she added.

Hall said that was thrilled by the success of the first backpack giveaway held by the Jamaica Square Improvement League. “It went beyond well,” she said.

However, Hall said she is looking forward to doing more to help students and the community at large in the future. “If it were up to me, it would be to help every child in Nassau County”