Diocesan News

Catholic School Educators Helped by Project Hope NY’s Back-to-School Backpack Drive

WINDSOR TERRACE — Grassroots organization Project Hope NY launched its 7th Annual Backpack Drive last month, donating back-to-school supplies and gift cards to New York and Indianapolis educators and organizations. Project Hope NY founders Robert Rising and Peter Cukier, originally from New York, moved to Indianapolis five years ago. Rising said he still has strong roots in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn — where he lived for many years — and decided to continue helping people in New York.

Father Jose Henriquez and Angie Mattera from St. Finbar Church, Bensonhurst/Bath Beach. (Photo: Courtesy of Project Hope NY)

Since the Backpack Drive is held every year, Project Hope NY aids teachers who often buy classroom supplies out of their own pockets.

“In New York, we helped three teachers with gift cards to help offset any costs they may have for their classrooms or e-learning,” Rising explained to The Tablet. “We also gave to St. Finbar’s.”

New York recipients include eighth-grade teacher Brendan Moloney and fourth-grade teacher Andrea Nordbo from St. Patrick Catholic Academy, Bay Ridge; Father Jose Henriquez and Angie Mattera from St. Finbar Church, Bensonhurst/Bath Beach; and kindergarten teaching assistant Meaghan Gillespie from the Hellenic Classical Charter School on Staten Island, who received $100 each. In Indiana, two Catholic school teachers from St. Luke and Our Lady of Good Hope received gift cards.

Project Hope NY has long-standing relationships with both St. Patrick’s and St. Finbar’s. Each year, it donates items to several of St. Patrick’s fundraisers. It has also donated toys at Christmas, sponsored Halloween and Easter parties, and donated the annual back-to-school gift card to help buy supplies for the children in St. Finbar’s parish.

Angie Mattera, administrator of St. Finbar’s Religious Education School, said the organization’s donations have been a great help for families who need to purchase school supplies. The $400 gift card this year will be used towards the 120 students who are registered for virtual and on-site learning. Mattera intends to purchase whatever may be needed by the students, including basic school supplies (like notebooks, pens, pencils, binders, folders, and crayons) and cleaning supplies for those who will be physically attending school.

“We are blessed in our church and our community to have such amazing people and organizations who look to donate to our various families,” Mattera said.

The organization also annually donates 100 filled backpacks to Reaching-Out Community Services in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn, and has purchased backpacks, school supplies, and new sneakers for children staying at an Indianapolis homeless shelter for women and children.

Between backpacks, supplies, and gift cards, the organization has donated $5,000 this year.

Project Hope NY was established after Rising’s mother suffered a brain aneurysm in 2012, was hospitalized in a coma for several months, and went through rehabilitation. Rising said the smallest gestures made by family, friends, and strangers during that time made all the difference when dealing with the tragedy. That was when the seed for Project Hope NY was planted and began to grow. Though Rising’s mother passed away in 2019, Project Hope continues in her honor.