By Jennifer L. Warren
NEWBURGH – A wide, joyful smile covered Justice Burks’ face, as he eagerly ran over to his cousin to proudly show him his brand new backpack, filled with an assortment of fun school supplies.
“Look what I got,” exclaimed Burks, who will be entering kindergarten next month, as he proceeded to unzip the snazzy new bag and reveal its contents to his cousin, Tristan Robinson, who will be entering 8th grade at South Junior High School in the fall, and also was extremely pleased about the black bookbag , complete with goodies inside it, he had just been handed and was wearing on his back.
Burks and Robinson made up 200 youth who took part in Friday’s first annual “Back to School, Back Together” event, held outside of the City of Newburgh’s Armory Unity Center.
Here, a large, yellow school bus was parked in the lot. In front of the bus, was a long table, loaded up with an impressive selection of brand new bookbags. Sporting various, eye-catching colors and insignias on the outside, the bookbags were specified for two age groups: elementary and middle school. Their age-appropriate contents included such necessities as; pens, pencils, notebooks, binders, rulers, markers, crayons and scissors.
The well-attended morning event was all part of a national initiative carried out by the Simon Property Group, owner of Woodbury Commons, whose employees were handing out the bookbags. Known for its focus on community, the Group has also held a big Christmas Toy Drive for children in the Monroe-Woodbury District in the past. However, this year marks its first bookbag and supplies initiative, something that was critically needed and warmly embraced.
“We are very excited we are able to expand in the community, as there is so much of a need,” explained Shannon LeMay, Marketing Director of Woodbury Commons. “We are a huge employer of local communities, and many people in our stores are from Newburgh, so this is a way of giving back to those families.”
Turns out, there was even more giving going on Friday at the Armory. Indoors, the monthly Giving Day, was loading up residents with essential food, hygiene, household cleaning, clothing and other necessities. Word about the bookbag event was included in the Giving Day announcements, making for a successful “partnership” whose altruistic spirit permeated the Armory grounds.
“We have a record-setting number of parents and children here today, as children need to be with an adult when they get their bookbags,” said Marietta Allen, Director of St. Mary’s Outreach who runs Giving Day, held the third Friday of every month. “We are very happy for the bookbag donations from Woodbury Commons as well as from Crystal Run in Middletown.”
Robinson too appreciated the motivating jump start for the quickly approaching 2021-2022 school year that the bookbag event provided.
“I really like that they are out here helping people today,” said Robinson about the Woodbury Commons volunteers. “This is a way for people who don’t have stuff for school and really need it to be able to have it and not worry,” said Robinson, who found out about the event through his Newburgh Enlarged City School District. “This bookbag and the supplies in it will definitely help me out, and knowing I have it, will make school easier.”
It’s that desire to add comfort and ease to people’s lives, especially in the wake of an ongoing Pandemic, which is at the epicenter of so many of the volunteer programs in Newburgh. Nowhere was that more evident than at the Armory last week.
“This is neighbors helping neighbors, and this is something I continue to see throughout Newburgh,” said Bob Sklarz, City Councilman for Ward 3 as well as a long-time Giving Day volunteer. “It’s just wonderful to see people helping people.”