Feature stories

We’ve got kids’ back(pack)s

Program provides supplies that help kids start school year in style — and well prepared

UFT President Michael Mulgrew puts a brand-new backpack on kindergartener Juan. Miller Photography

UFT President Michael Mulgrew puts a brand-new backpack on kindergartener Juan.

Davindra is only in the 6th grade, but already looks pretty comfortable at Chann Miller Photography

Davindra is only in the 6th grade, but already looks pretty comfortable at Channel 11’s news desk.

UFT Vice President for Elementary Schools Karen Alford with 2nd-graders Victoria Miller Photography

UFT Vice President for Elementary Schools Karen Alford with 2nd-graders Victoria and Skyla, proud recipients of new backpacks.

“It’s beautiful,” Brianna said, as she examined her new backpack and pulled out the notebooks, book covers, colored pencils, calculator, protractor, compass and “a big humongous book” from inside. 

The 5th-grader from Manhattan’s PS 126 was beaming as she said, “I’m going to wear my book bag tomorrow.”

Brianna was among a group of kids from the Bound for Success after-school program who were treated to a behind-the-scenes studio tour at WPIX Channel 11 on Sept. 22 and received backpacks filled with school items necessary for a good start to the school year. 

“Project Back to School,” as it’s called, is organized by the Coalition for the Homeless and sponsored by the UFT, Channel 11 and other groups — including 21 classrooms and schools that gathered the supplies. Now in its fourth year, the project distributed 3,000 backpacks this year to kids living in city shelters, up from 700 when it began. 

UFT President Michael Mulgrew welcomed the students, who ranged in age from 5 to 15, while Channel 11 weatherman Irv Gikofksy, better known as “Mr. G,” told them that this was the highlight of his day and shared that he was a shy as a youth — “but look at me now; you can grow up and be different!” 

Mr. G, a former New  York City school teacher, led the studio tour, answered questions and let the students try out the news desk and stand before the “green screen.” 

Karen Alford, the UFT vice president for elementary schools, helped distribute the backpacks and gave an assist in adjusting straps where necessary. 

“What an amazing day!” Alford said. “We made children feel special and we gave them supplies so they can attend school prepared and ready to learn.”

The backpacks are carefully chosen to match the grade and gender of the recipient, with glittery pink ones for those who appreciate that, and more serious-looking bags for older students. The supplies stuffed inside were also geared to the child’s age. 

The number of homeless children in New York City is growing, with the most recent Census Bureau survey finding that one in five New Yorkers — more than 20 percent — is too poor to pay for food or rent, costs that are at the highest level they’ve been in 10 years.

Department of Education data indicates that the number of city public school students without permanent shelter has quadrupled since 2008, when the economy hit the skids.

“There are 17,000 children in homeless shelters throughout the city and 43,000 without permanent homes, doubled up with family or friends, living in cars or hotels,” said Sarah Murphy of the Coalition for the Homeless. 

“We’re definitely seeing an increase in family homelessness,” said Marissa Butler, the coordinator of the backpack drive for the Coalition.

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