KENSINGTON/CONEY ISLAND – NYC public schools are getting ready to open on September 21, and like every year, community organizations are getting together to give away free backpacks and school supplies to children who need them. This year, doing so is even more important amid the pandemic.
Tomorrow, Saturday, September 12 at 11:30 a.m., members of ICNA Relief and Young Muslims (YM)— both nonprofit organizations– will be standing in front of 865 Coney Island Avenue between 18th and Ditmas Avenues. They will be giving away free backpacks and supplies on a first-come, first-serve basis until about 4 p.m. People are asked to wear a face-covering and stand six feet apart. This is the sixth year the Back2School Giveaway will be done in NYC. They have given out over 45,000 backpacks with supplies to refugees and other vulnerable children across 42 states and Puerto Rico, to date. In New York, they distribute 5,000 backpacks and supplies every year. And this year is no exception.
“The Back2School giveaway ensures that the youth don’t get left out when it comes to attaining an equal education. Giving out backpacks and supplies to students in underserved communities gives them a chance to succeed,” Muhammad Zeb, the YM Brooklyn coordinator said. “Education is something that empowers every community, so ICNA Relief and Young Muslims came together to support communities that are marginalized and lack resources.”
“The beginning of the school year can be overwhelming for low-income households with multiple children. Parents that are already struggling have an additional financial burden to provide supplies for kids that can cost hundreds of dollars,” Shumaila Siddiqui-Noor, the Admin Outreach Coordinator at ICNA Relief NY said. “Our mission is to help alleviate the sufferings of the underserved communities in NY and the Brooklyn community.”
Zeb explained that the pandemic made it very difficult for low-income families to provide for themselves. He said he personally knows families that have had a tough time these past few months. He feels that it is up to the community– especially the Muslim community- to get together and help those who need it. Just this afternoon, Muslims Giving Back partnered up with Nile Ridge Pharmacy to give away 150 supplies, backpacks, and hand sanitizers to kids in Bay Ridge. And on Sunday, September 13, MAS Youth Center will be giving out their own free supplies and backpacks on Mermaid Avenue and West 25th Street at 2 p.m. And at 4 p.m. on Sunday, there will be a Little Pakistan Children Day at the PAYS Center on 1001 Newkirk Avenue, where there will be free food, ice cream, goody bags, and of course, backpacks and school supplies.
“Within the past few years, the Muslim community has experienced a variety of discrimination incidents. Due to Islamophobia events, it has led the community to hate crimes resulting in fear, hopelessness, attacks, and sometimes death,” Minna Abdelkader, the co-outreach director at MAS said. “This may have created a major barrier between the Muslim community and other communities. By hosting the Back2School Giveaway event, we hope to shift and channel any doubts and frustrations to understanding and caring communities. By emphasizing acts of kindness, mutual respect, and productivity it can be a great example of hope. There is hope in action.”
“Many parents are preparing to send their children back to school this September. This event is to show support to the community that is struggling to care for their families this summer when sending their children back to school is an added stress and expense,” she continued. “We hope that the sense of community will provide a well-deserved relief in tough times, as they attain free materials that would give their children the much needed academic edge they need this school year. By doing so, we believe this will empower and uplift students to maximize their potential to exceed expectations in their academics.”
“As we get back to normality, parents have to worry about their rent, groceries, bills, and school supplies for their children,” Zeb said. “We want to take the load off from them and support them with backpacks and supplies through the Back2School giveaway.”
The people working behind the tables giving out the supplies will all be young Muslims who took time out of their weekend to give back. And they wouldn’t have wanted it any other way.
“We want to teach the younger guys that it is very important that communities come together and help each other in easy and hard times. It gives a deeper understanding of Islamic values that the Prophet has taught us. The Prophet said: ‘Generosity is near to Allah, near to Paradise, near to the people, and far from hellfire,'” Zeb said. “What I take away from this is that being generous and giving to your community makes you closer to Allah and the people– the community.”
“When people come together to serve each other, the whole of humanity succeeds and develops,” he continued. “I think as young Muslims if we instill that in our minds, we wouldn’t only care for our own Muslim communities, but for every community regardless of race or religion.”