Meets pressing community needs by mobilizing caring New Yorkers in volunteer service.

Stand with Students: Beyond the Backpack

Backpack images

On September 13, 2021, more than one million New York City public school students returned to the classroom for the first time in over a year with no option for remote learning.

Behind the scenes, New York Cares is working hard to put schools hit hardest by the pandemic first—listening to and learning directly from community members in the South Bronx, Central Queens, and East/Central Brooklyn.  As we’ve learned more, we’ve reevaluated, recalibrated, and evolved our response.

Stand with Students is just one example of this holistic approach to meeting a pressing community need. This year-round initiative was designed in the summer of 2020 in collaboration with Community Partners, clients in the community, corporate sponsors, and volunteers to address needs both tangible and intangible, including social-emotional learning, literacy, math, and fitness programs, PPE (personal protective equipment) and school supplies like backpacks.  

Stand with Students Chair and New York Cares Board Member, Keith Grossman recently pointed out some of the struggles NYC public school students face outside of a normal school day, including the rising cost of living, lack of healthy eating options, hunger, inequitable access to college prep programs, learning loss, and too much more.  

Ruth Aybar, Associate Director of Community Engagement at New York Cares says, “Our students have been extremely impacted by the pandemic. Families are struggling to make ends meet, and not being able to work placed a hardship on many families, hindering their ability to provide essential items such as food on the table and school supplies.” 

In 2020, New York Cares distributed 20,000 backpacks filled with school supplies thanks to the generosity of our corporate sponsors. To make Stand with Students even more impactful and intentional this year, we are thinking beyond the 15,000 backpacks slated for distribution in 2021. Ruth says there are gaps that need to be filled, including:  

  • The digital divide, which has profoundly affected the most vulnerable students. Last year, we helped provide technology support for virtual classrooms. This year, with students back in the classroom, we are providing adequate supplies, such as notebooks, pencils, and other supplies for students to do their work at home.
  • School supplies are highly sought after in our communities of need. Receiving supplies like pencils, markers, books, and backpacks helps to ease financial burdens. “Families and students are so grateful and appreciative of not having to spend or secure funds to ensure their kids are ready for school." 


Since Stand with Students launched in August, we have worked with partners to distribute 7,150 backpacks with supplies in Central Queens, 900 in East/Central Brooklyn, and 1,250 in the South Bronx. While our impact is most often quantified by the tangible number of backpacks distributed, the figurative impact reaches much further.  “We hear from our volunteer base their stories of making a difference in the life of a student,” Ruth added. “There is no doubt that volunteerism is essential to the recovery and sustainability of the growth and recovery of a community.” 

Coordinating volunteers and distributing supplies to communities is only the first step for Stand with Students. We will be here all year long with both virtual and in person programming like Art Explorers, Math Games, Read Aloud, Story (Any)Time, Kid Fitness, Zumba, yoga, and the Career Vision Tour. Additionally, we’ll continue our work in hard-hit communities during our annual coat drive, making sure that parents won’t have to choose between putting food on the table and keeping their children warm. 

Are you committed to Stand with Students? Sign up to become a volunteer, donate or sign up for our newsletter to stay informed on all the ways to make New York City a more equitable place to live.

Erin Hiatt's picture