Things are different this year.
That’s true for a lot of things, obviously, but it’s no less true for the “Supplies for Success” program of the Jewish Federation of Northern New Jersey.
The idea that led to the program’s launch in 2015 is simple: “No child should go to school without a sharpened pencil and the tools to be successful.” That’s a quote from Sari Gross of Wayne; she chairs the federation’s volunteer resource center, which oversees the program.
The program has grown each year. Last year the federation distributed 1,500 backpacks. “This year we found need where we haven’t seen need before,” Ms. Gross said. “We really pushed ourselves and said let’s try for 1,800 this year.”
In every other year, the plan was pretty simple: Donors would give money to the federation to buy a certain number of backpacks, and the notebooks and pencils and and other school supplies to fill them with. Then volunteers would gather at the federation’s Paramus offices and pack the backpacks.
“Usually we’re working shoulder to shoulder packing,” Ms. Gross said. “The event itself is beautiful because we’re all working together with the energy in the room to do something good.”
But working shoulder to shoulder in the same room can’t happen this year.
Instead, the packing will happen in two stages, with a lot more social distancing.
In the first stage, the packing is being dispersed across the region in what are being called pop-up sessions. Volunteers will head to the federation offices on beginning on Monday, August 3, and pick up 40 backpacks and the materials that go with them — specifically single spiral notebooks, composition books, folders, pens, color pencils, a three-ring binder, glue sticks, erasers, markers, a ruler, and hand sanitizer and a mask. They can pack them at home, either as a family or by inviting socially distanced friends to join in. Then they will return the bags, now packed, to the federation.
The second stage will come on Sunday, August 16. The federation will set up several tents in the parking lot for individual packing stations. People will sign up for a specific time slot with “whoever they’re comfortable doing it with,” Ms. Gross said. “It will be different but hopefully will have that same sense of working together to help those who are in need in our community.”
The tents and their tables will be cleaned between each session.
“We’re making sure everything is organized and safe,” Ms. Gross said.
Last year, the federation expanded its program to Hudson County. That continues this year, with a packing event scheduled for Tuesday morning, August 25, at the parking lot of Congregation B’nai Jacob in Jersey City. The federation is allocating 300 backpacks for Hudson County. They will be distributed by an organization called AngelaCARES. It was founded by Angela McKnight, who now represents New Jersey’s 31st district, which includes Bayonne and much of Jersey City, in the State Assembly.
“We will have a nice event — using social distancing — and give them out to low-income children in our community,” Ms. McKnight said.
“I’m so grateful to partner with the Jewish Federation to bring more smiles to children’s faces. And to the parents who are going through so much, especially now since the pandemic — people who lost their jobs or are on furloughs. This will help them not have to worry about school supplies. Whether or not the schools open up, the kids still need supplies to do their work.
“Despite the covid-19 that’s out there, we’re still a community and the community is coming together.”
For details and to register, visit jfnnj.org/supplies.