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Local Muslim organization giving away backpacks for school

STEPHON JOHNSON Amsterdam News Staff | 8/23/2012, 4:16 p.m.

Starting this Friday, the Islamic Circle North America (ICNA) will distribute 5,000 backpacks to local kids in need as the tristate area approaches the new school year. It's part of the organization's second annual Back to School Giveaway program, which will distribute 30,000 backpacks to children of all faiths in low-income areas around the country. The event is organized by ICNA's domestic relief department, ICNA Relief USA.

The first giveaway takes place at the Malcolm X and Dr. Betty Shabazz Educational and Memorial Center in Harlem on Aug. 24 from 5 to 7 p.m. Similar giveaways will take place around the five boroughs up to Sept. 2, including the Bronx Muslim Center, Andalusia School in Yonkers and the MAS Sheepshead Bay Community Center in Brooklyn on Aug. 25; Masjid Taqwa in Brooklyn, Project Allahu Akbar Community Center in Wyandanch, N.Y., and ICNA headquarters in Jamaica, Queens, on Aug. 26; and the MAS Astoria Community Center in Queens on Aug. 31.

The AmNews spoke with ICNA Secretary Omar Ranginwala about the program and what it means to the organization and everyone involved. Ranginwala said that a kid having enough school supplies for the year is an oft-forgotten problem when it comes to education.

"It's very important," Ranginwala said. "It's overlooked a lot of times because regular people think that everyone comes in with enough supplies. There are a lot of teachers who have to spend out of pocket because a lot of kids don't have that much, and it's important that everyone have an equal opportunity. It's very important that they have the right essentials."

In 2011, through ICNA Relief USA, 15,000 school bags filled with supplies were distributed in 49 cities in 16 states. The 30,000 backpacks slated for giveaway this year will cover 21 states and several more low-income areas in cities and towns.

"We try and do these giveaways in communities that are in need," Ranginwala said. "We look at statistics and try to find places there [where we can distribute]. The turnout that we have has also been consistently high."

Ranginwala said the loss of funds to programs that help children from low-income households and areas are disappearing, so his organization is helping to pick up the slack.

"Of course there's a big problem with the budget cuts," said Ranginwala. "There are a lot of teachers losing their jobs and a lot of after-school programs aren't happening, and there's a lot less support that the school can give, so it's very important to support anywhere you can."

While there are practical reasons for doing what the ICNA does, there's also the sentimental aspect of simply helping another person. Ranginwala acknowledged such to the AmNews and how it has made him feel personally.

"At the end, it's a sort of refreshing thing that comes to your heart when you see a smile on the kid's face and the parents who come with them," said Ranginwala. "That has had a great impact on us. It really helps in building communities together."

You can find more information about the backpack giveaways at back2schoolgiveaway.com.