For the 22nd year in a row, children and families lined up at Mary Nelson’s Back to School Giveaway to get supplies for the upcoming school year. 

This year, the event shut down parts of South Salina Street, East Colvin Street and Wood Avenue to make room for a parade and celebration, and so children could line up to get their supplies.

The event included a fresh food market, clothing from Polka Tot Children’s Consignment, live musical performances, a bounce house for children and games in Sankofa Park.

A number of other organizations like Peace In The Street, Unchained Now and Syracuse Community Health distributed goodie bags with informational resources and personal care items. Other organizations helped residents with medical, educational, and mental health services. 

The line to grab school supplies grew so long that some families declined to leave the giveaway line for the parade and celebration out of fear of losing their spot.  

Jeremiah Berry, of Syracuse, waited for more than two hours to get school supplies with his four children. Berry, who made a point to arrive early, has attended the event for the last three years. He said some of the supplies last his kids the whole school year.

“If you’re in the back of the line you might get whatever is left. That’s the sad part about it. But at least if you’re here, you get a bookbag. You don’t leave without one,” Berry said.

Abundant Life Church was one of the many organizations and community members volunteering at the giveaway. The church has been involved with the event for the past decade. 

In all, an estimated 2,000 students received backpacks and school supplies during the backpack giveaway, said Miles Ray, the Abundant Life Church outreach coordinator.

With the start of the school year just about two weeks away, the giveaway comes at a crucial time for families in Syracuse, a city that has high rates of concentrated, segregated and child poverty. The giveaway helps alleviate some financial stress for families with children going back to school. 

Felicia Hayes, of Syracuse, led the parade. Hayes is an advocate for suicide prevention and marched in memory of her daughter Jasmine McMullen, who died by suicide. Hayes attended to volunteer and help raise awareness about suicide prevention among Black and Brown communities. 

“Mary Nelson’s book bag giveaway shows the love in our community,” Hayes said. “And, so, as my part, I show the love and show them that they’re not alone, it’s okay to not be okay. To let them know that there are resources out there that will help them get the things that they need to continue to live.” 

Berry, the father of four, was not alone in arriving early. This year’s event started at 7 a.m. and ran until 6 p.m. 

Rows of tents and tables had bins with notebooks, crayons, binders, pens, pencils, glue sticks, and markers.

Kutukira Mberwa of Syracuse, a mother of three, arrived with her children and extended family to pick up back to school supplies. All 12 kids in the family were able to get backpacks.  

Mberwa has attended the annual event for the past 5 years. The eldest children in her extended family arrived from Idaho almost 6 years ago and have been attending Mary Nelson’s backpack giveaway since coming to Syracuse.  

The kids in Mberwa’s group were excited to get their backpacks for the year. They managed to find a lunchbox with Mario from the game Super Mario and a unicorn backpack. Each of the children all wore their new backpacks. 

“This year is a lot better, they get to select their own backpacks. I love this year, the fact that the kids get to pick what they want,” Mberwa said.

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