Frank Rizzo – Backpack Giveaway is a Big Hit

Taking part in the bookbag giveaway were, from left, Assemblyman Charles Lavine; Dr. Samarth Joseph, Espoir founder and executive director; Michele Vaccarelli, director of the Oyster Bay-East Norwich Public Library; and Maureen Droge, executive director of the Westbury Senior Center. (Contributed Photo)

The reactions of the Espoir after-school program students were as varied as their personalities. They filed into an upstairs assembly room at the  center in Westbury, passing a table full of backpacks that they would soon receive.

Some looked straight ahead and did not notice. Some acted blasé. Others, however, were wide-eyed and wide-mouthed with surprise and delight after spotting the bags.

Later, as they lined up to accept the gifts from Assemblyman Charles Levine (D-Glen Cove), it was obvious what the prize offering was: a Spiderman-themed bag. A couple of youths asked for it outright. They were firmly told they had to accept what was given. If boys received girl-themed bags, and vice-versa, they could exchange them with fellow students when they gathered downstairs.

Lavine was on hand to distribute the backpacks and school supplies collected throughout August at four locations in his 13th Assembly District.

These young men are happy to receive the backpacks, and soon would have a chance to exchange them with other students.
(Photo by Frank Rizzo)

According to a press release, “the office was able to collect thousands of needed school supplies and close to 100 new backpacks. In addition to the outstanding efforts of the community, several local organizations partnered with the office on this initiative, including Walmart of Westbury, the Bryant Library in Roslyn, the Oyster Bay-East Norwich Public Library, the Jericho Public Library and the Mid-Island Y JCC in Plainview.”

Dr. Samarth Joseph, founder and executive director of Espoir, asked her charges, “Can someone tell me what’s going on today?”

“We’re getting school supplies,” one student called out.

Another piped up, “We’re getting book bags by—where is he?” Sounding puzzled, he said, half to himself, “Where is he?”

Lavine, with a broad smile, turned around in his seat to face the students as Joseph asked who the special guest was that day.

One student correctly called out the assemblyman’s name.

As the students walked into the room, they look over the bookbags that they would receive later.
(Photo by Frank Rizzo)

“We are grateful that Assemblyman Charles D. Lavine thought of us,” Joseph told the assembled, which included parents and staff. “He’s a great supporter of Espoir. And we are so happy that you are here, Assemblyman Lavine.”

Lavine, in turn, thanked the founder for what he called “a great program” and noted that his office had reached out to the community for help.

“And that’s what this is about. This is a great, great community,” Lavine said. “We want to make sure that every kid has the supplies that that kid wants and needs. And so this was an important thing.”

Lavine thanked Walmart, Michele Vaccarelli, director of the Oyster Bay-East Norwich Library, and Maureen Droge, executive director of the Westbury Senior Citizens Center.

“The seniors and the older people in the community also care about you,” Droge said. “So we were able to contribute to this great program.”

“The Espoir program does such a magnificent job in taking care of children—and I think that one more time we have to applaud Dr. Joseph and the people who take care of you,” Lavine said.

He pointed out Anita Johnson, sister of Town of North Hempstead Councilwoman and Westbury resident Viviana Russell. The councilwoman, he noted, once worked in his office.

Lavine poked fun at the reputation of politicians for talking too much, and promised he wouldn’t.

“I’m overjoyed to be here,” he continued.”Every time I’m at Espoir I feel great and inspired. Because, after all, what does espoir mean?”

“Hope,” came a voice from the student seating section.

“Yes, hope,” the assemblyman replied. “Everybody here, take care of yourselves. Take good care of your families. Take good care of your friends and your brothers and sisters. And do what your teachers tell you to do. Fair enough?”

“Yes,” came a collective answer.

Turning to Joseph, Lavine joshed, “I always do what you tell me to do. So give me my marching orders.”

His “orders” were to stand at the head of the table and give each student a brand new backpack filled with necessary school supplies.

Espoir is a community organization that offers a food pantry and social and educational services for families and children. It is located at 570 Main St. in Westbury. Visit

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