Dromm Holds Backpack Giveaway At Pan Am

Staff Writer

School age children of the controversial Pan Am shelter got a back-to-school boost this week.

Councilman Daniel Dromm (D-Jackson Heights) distributed about 200 backpacks, notebooks and water bottles to the school-age residents of Elmhurst’s Boulevard Family Center, formerly the Pan American Hotel, on Tuesday. The backpacks were donated by Queens Center Mall.

The shelter, which the Dept. of Homeless Services opened without prior notification to the community or elected officials, has caused significant controversy in Elmhurst. At a protest against the shelter in late June, much of the community’s outrage was directed at shelter residents, who formed a counter protest. A subsequent July protest was held outside the shelter’s entrance.

Dromm said that he understands the community’s concerns about the establishment of the shelter and overcrowding in the area, “but we can never blame the families or the children for the situation they find themselves in.”

“That’s the message I really wanted to send today,” Dromm said.

Sheila Jones lives in the shelter with two school age children. She said she appreciates events like this backpack drive.

“The back to school [event] and the things for the children, it’s a diversion of what’s going on in the community,” Jones said.

Shelter resident Liza Pizarro, who works as a home health aide in Brooklyn, picked up a backpack for her eight-year-old daughter, Victoria Lopez. Victoria will be entering third grade in a Brooklyn public school in the fall.

Of the backpack giveaway, Pizarro said, “I feel good. I think it’s a good idea they’re doing that.”

Since she came to the shelter about a month ago, Pizarro said, “It’s been ok. I’ve been in other shelters [where] it was worse…I try to keep it to myself. I came here for one thing and one thing only – in and out.”

Reach Jackie Strawbridge at (718) 357-7400, Ext. 128, or @JNStrawbridge.