October 25, 2021

Students get help as they prepare for school

Colin Spencer/staff reporter

Darris McDowell, owner of The Squeeze Juice Bar on Main Street in Cortland, looks over backpacks Monday at his restaurant. McDowell and other groups plan to give away hundreds of backpacks with school supplies in the coming weeks.

Darris McDowell knows how important community support is for kids.

It’s what helped keep him off the streets growing up in south Bronx and why he’s continuing his backpack drive Sunday.

McDowell and other local organizations will provide free school supplies for greater Cortland area children starting next week and into the end of August and early September as the start of school nears.

The Squeeze Juice Bar in Cortland, which McDowell owns, will host its backpack drive from noon to 3 p.m. Sunday, according to the eatery’s Facebook page.

McDowell said he expects to give away more than 100 backpacks at his store at 105 Main St., filled with school supplies including pencils, crayons and rulers.

The drive is especially important this year considering how the pandemic has impacted families financially.

“This time now, a lot of parents are out of work so things like this help parents financially,” McDowell said.

The average amount U.S. parents expect to spend for their children’s school supplies as part of back-to-school shopping is $138.75, according to Statista.

While the Cortland Enlarged City School District has provided school supplies to children for the last few years, families may be lacking extra school supplies for students to use at home, said Mindy Gardner, the mentoring director at the YWCA in Cortland.

“I feel that school supplies are always a necessary item,” she said. “They always need to be replaced.”

The YWCA plans its own backpack drive through its Bridges for Kids program Sept. 1, where more than 80 kids will be able to get backpacks filled with school supplies and hygiene products such as hand sanitizer, tissue boxes and feminine hygiene products, Gardner said.

“A school year is stressful enough and then you add COVID in there,” she said. “If we can provide one less item to worry and stress about, it provides a big difference.” The YWCA is accepting donations at its 14 Clayton Ave. address until Aug. 31, Gardner said.

Items can be dropped off there or people can make a purchase on the organization’s Amazon wish list link and have items delivered to the organization.

Churches, such as the Homer Congregational Church and the Chapel in Cortland, also plan back-to-school events where supplies will be provided.

The Homer Congregational Church will have its event 9 a.m. to noon Aug. 28 at the church, 28 S. Main St., according to its website.

The Chapel will have its event, giving away 500 backpacks, noon to 3 p.m. Aug. 28 at its church, 1118 Route 222 in Cortlandville, according to the church’s Facebook page.

McDowell said he hopes he can grow the drive in the future to team up with other businesses and give out bigger, more expensive school supplies such as iPads.

But a drive like this is one way for McDowell to support and give back to the community that supported him and let his business grow, especially with things he learned growing up as a child.

“It just helps,” he said. “It takes a village to raise a child.”


To learn more
For more information about these drives and how to donate, visit the following websites:

  • The Squeeze Juice Bar: www.facebook.com/theSQUEEZEbar
  • The YWCA: tinyurl.com/3hrwds6u
  • Homer Congregational Church: www.homercc.com/prep/
  • The Chapel: tinyurl.com/dmwuevds