Far Rockaway’s hospital, St. John’s Episcopal, drew an estimated 2,000 children and their parents to its annual Community and Back to School Wellness Fair.
Numerous community organizations joined St. John’s at the event, including Healthfirst, Centers Adult Day Care and Queens Library. In addition to fun and games for the children, the hospital offered free blood pressure and health screenings.
Two years ago, St. John’s decided to combine its back-to-school event with the community wellness fair. “Parents have to go to 10 tables,” said Vice President of External Affairs Renee Hastick-Motes. “They then turn in their voucher for a backpack and school supplies.”
As parents visited vendors, kids had a chance to play as pop-a-shot basketball, inflatable darts, and other games. There was also face painting, music and even a rock climbing wall. Drake’s “In My Feelings” came on twice during the day, and both times children rushed the stage to dance.
With temperatures hovering near 90 degrees, several bins of ice and water bottles were provided, along with free Italian ices next to the DJ booth. While clouds at around 2 pm offered a break from the burning sun, the threat of rain meant it was time to move forward with the giveaway. Lines of families formed on all sides around two tables, where hospital employees and volunteers from local high schools handed out backpacks.
St. John’s CEO Gerald Walsh and Hastick-Motes received a check for $1.025 million from Councilmember Donovan Richards Jr. to help renovate the labor and delivery department. With $3 million from Queens Borough President Melinda Katz and the money raised by the hospital, St. John’s fund for the project now stands at over $5 million. “We need the community to be supportive of the hospital so the hospital can continue to support the community,” Richards said.
Walsh thanked Richards, as well as the more than 40 community organizations and vendors who helped run the event. Walsh added that last year, between 700 and 800 backpacks were handed out. This year, it was 2,000.
“It’s a great chance to give the kids an opportunity to have some fun, while we give back to the community,” he said. “It lets us show that we’re here to support them. Not only when they’re sick, but when they’re healthy too.”