Hundreds of children are now primed for school after scoring new book bags filled with supplies at Martin “Bunky” Reid Park in Westbury.
More than 500 kids and their families noshed on food, clutched twisted balloons and played lawn games at a back-to-school event hosted by North Hempstead Town Councilman Robert Troiano and Nassau County Legis. Siela Bynoe (D-Westbury).
The Nassau County Police Benevolent Association donated 800 book bags stuffed with essential school gear, including pencils, pouches and notebooks. Several officers grilled hot dogs as a DJ played music.
Kevin Mullick, first vice president of the Nassau PBA, said the event, held annually, helps strengthen relationships with local residents.
“Giving back is a valuable thing,” Mullick said.
“You’re helping the parents by supplying the children with school supplies and it’s a fun time for the community.”
Volunteers from the NAACP Westbury/New Cassel branch, along with the Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority’s local chapter, also were on hand, helping to distribute the knapsacks and hand sanitizer.
Nykeea Massey and her 6-year-old son attended for the first time since recently moving to Westbury, but Massey stressed it won’t be their last visit.
“Today is really nice. I love the games. My son loved the bouncy house. I will definitely tell my neighbors about this,” said Massey, 38.
Mireya Cortez, 33, turned up with her two boys, ages 12 and 9, plus their six cousins and their aunt. For Cortez's 12-year-old son, Steven, seeing the crowds was the best part.
“I really like everybody being here. Especially after 2020 and everything else, it’s nice to be together again like this,” Steven said.
The event has grown since kicking off in 2014, Bynoe said.
There are 5,193 students enrolled in the Westbury Union Free School District and 81% are economically disadvantaged, according to state Education Department 2019-2020 data.
“Most of the people you see here today are the people who fit into that category; they are not just coming here for a free bag. These are people who are coming because this is money they can use for something else,” said Troiano, who is also president of the Westbury school board.
Bynoe agreed, noting the significant turnout after a school year rocked by the pandemic, high inflation and one of the deadliest school shootings since 2012.
“It warms my heart to know that we are meeting a significant need in this community,” Bynoe said.
"This is a community coming together trying to make sure that our kids are excited about going back to school and strengthening our relationship between police and community,” Bynoe added.
With summer winding down, many parents were hoping for a less disruptive school year and ready for their kids to put their thinking caps back on. The first day of school for students in the Westbury district is Sept. 1.
“It’s good to get the kids prepared and excited about going back to school to learn again," said Gelene Graham of Westbury, who picked up a backpack for her 16-year-old daughter. "Summertime is fun, but sometimes you have to get back to business.”