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Monday, November 28, 2022

Teachers at PA 143 in Queens Open "Cubs Boutique" To Offer Free Food, Clothes and Household Items To Parents and Kids in Need


photo: Gwynne Hogan

Creative thinking and a lot of heart at PS143 Louis Armstrong in Corona Queens has brought to NYC the "Cubs Boutique", a place where parents in need can get food, clothes and household items for free.

Great work, PS 143 teachers!

Now let's see this in every school. There are families throughout NYC in every school who are needy, and could use support without judgment.

Betsy Combier, Editor

Facing surge in homeless students, teachers in Queens open a store offering free food and items

Gwynne Hogan

Published Nov 28, 2022 at 5:01 a.m.


Inside a Queens elementary school, teachers and staff have converted a recreation area into the "Cubs Boutique” — a free store where parents and kids can find everything from clothing and food, to household items.

The idea was born of necessity at P.S. 143 Louis Armstrong in Corona, which saw a dramatic influx in the number of students living in temporary housing this school year, largely driven by the arrival of families seeking asylum in the United States.

The school serves about 1,500 students and roughly 400 of them live in temporary housing such as city shelters and hotels, said Principal Justine Lucas.

Just within this academic year, the school enrolled nearly 100 new students who were living in temporary housing, more than any other school in the city, according to data collected by project Open Arms, an interagency effort to connect children of asylum seekers to public schools.

Early in the school year, teachers began noticing immense need from their new community members. They observed multiple siblings sharing one winter jacket, a mother who was using a shopping cart as a stroller, and children wearing sandals to school in frigid temperatures.

They’d been addressing little emergencies like these with a piecemeal approach, but by late September, they had another idea: to create a store where "parents have dignity and feel really proud to come in and select items,” Lucas said.

Teachers and staff man the store after school and during their free periods, sorting through donated goods.

“Coming from immigrant parents myself, I actually know the struggles that these families can go through,” said bilingual speech therapist Michelle Escobar, who said it’s been a rewarding experience to volunteer at the store.

The boutique is just one way teachers and staff aim to meet the needs of the community. They also keep the school open for four hours on Saturdays for a special literacy program and offer classes to parents on mindfulness, yoga and how to better help their kids with work they might take home.

Rachel Pauta, a reading specialist, said P.S. 143 has an important role to fill as a family’s first experience of school: “We have to make it memorable. We have to make it meaningful,” she said. “We have to make it helpful.”

Lucas said the effort has had a significant impact: “It's really a beautiful thing to see what this labor of love accomplishes."