Healthcare Education Project hosts backpack drive-thru, vaccine clinic for families in need

Syracuse HEP hosts backpack drive thru, vaccine clinic for families in need

New York State Senator John Mannion’s office, healthcare service Circare, and the Food Bank of Central New York partnered with HEP to help dozens of families in the community.
Published: September 23, 2021 | Updated: October 6th, 2021 at 4:15 pm
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Volunteers hand out backpacks filled with health supplies at the Backpack to Health Drive-Thru on Sept. 18.

The Healthcare Education Project (HEP) Syracuse held a drive-thru event Saturday from noon to 2 p.m. at Arc of Onondaga to give away backpacks with health supplies, art therapy kits, and food boxes to families with children in need.

Event sponsors included New York State Senator John Mannion’s office, healthcare service Circare, and the Food Bank of Central New York. Sen. Mannion described the drive-thru as “a great opportunity to help out the community” and helped direct cars and spoke to attendees at the event about available resources. Volunteers also gathered to hand out supplies and food boxes with eggs and milk to cars that drove by.

“We’re in the midst of the pandemic still, and a lot of families are hurting,” Sen. Mannion said. “We want to make sure that when kids go to school, they have the resources they need to put them on a path to success.” 

Along with picking up backpacks, event attendees could also obtain materials on available mental health services and disability advocacy resources from other project partners. Liberty Resources, a health and wellness service, and Arc of Onondaga, a social services organization for people with developmental disabilities, tabled at the drive-thru and handed out snacks, brochures, and contact information to the cars pulling up. 

The HEP also arranged a pop-up vaccine clinic in partnership with Wegmans Pharmacy to provide vaccines for COVID-19 and the flu to interested attendees. 

With schools in the Syracuse City School District reopening last week, Brittany Taylor, program director for Liberty Resources, said they wanted to host a backpack giveaway after the first week of classes had passed because they recognized that some parents may have missed out on school drives held prior to the beginning of the fall semester. 

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Senator John Mannion and LaToya Jones enjoy a quick conversation after the drive-thru closes.

Taylor said this event served as a “second chance for the community to gain access” to essentials. She said at the event that she hoped to connect with families that have children with disabilities as well as any other community members who might be in need. 

LaToya Jones ­­– healthcare organizer for HEP and the main coordinator for the drive-thru – said that when the pandemic began, she recognized that a lot of families that had people with disabilities did not have the necessary materials to take care of them, nor did they have access to obtain them. 

“Normally, the things you use during COVID-19 is what people with disabilities use every day, like in the home settings or wherever. Things like wipes, gloves, hand sanitizer, those things, they use on a daily basis,” Jones said. “With the pandemic, there was a shortage of those things.” 

Jones said she hopes that this drive-thru will help with that shortage and prepare students and their families for the school year. 

A steady stream of cars had populated the event in the first hour, but attendance petered down midway. Derrick Carr, district representative for Senator Mannion, said he was pleased with the turnout, saying “It was really good to see 39 cars lined up at noon,” but added that perhaps a door-to-door survey of the neighborhoods directly surrounding the drive-thru could have helped boost attendance. 

Sen. Mannion said he thought the event was a success and expressed appreciation towards Jones’ organizational skills. 

“As negative or as polarizing as some things might be, I am always hopeful and do believe that a few positive people doing a few positive things can go a long way,” Sen. Mannion said. 

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is a digital producer for The NewsHouse.