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‘Extravaganza’ supports Hartford families as they celebrate, prepare for a new school year

Early on Saturday morning, Natasha Williams and her family patiently waited in line to make their way inside the LAZ parking lot on Hartford’s Market Street, which slowly came to life with a bouncy house, a stage and busy volunteers.

Williams' family was one of hundreds who made their way to the second annual Back-to-School Extravaganza. The event was hosted by local nonprofit Angel of Edgewood to help families prepare for the school year. Families also received health care and child care resources provided by community partners.

Williams, who is getting two middle schoolers and a first grader ready for their first day of classes, said the extra help goes a long way, given the rising costs of just about everything.

“It’s very hard, but we’re handling,” said Williams. With fewer COVID-19 restrictions her children are excited to go back.

“They get to have a little bit more fun with their friends, not wear their masks, so they feel a little bit more free,” she said.

Jendayi Scott-Miller, the executive director of Angel of Edgewood, explained that the organization primarily serves as a food pantry.

“We want to make sure that everyone is equipped before school,” she said. “That’s why we always have our event the last week of August, because by this time many of the families are out of their food stamp benefits, and this is a long stretch to the first, second and third of the month when they’re reinstated.”

The event also included special performances for families.

Angel of Edgewood, a local non-profit, hosts the 2nd Annual Back to School Extravaganza
Greg Miller
/
Connecticut Public
Jendayi Scott-Miller, executive director of Angel of Edgewood, surveys the second annual Back-to-School Extravaganza on Saturday, Aug. 27, 2022. Scott-Miller says that Angel of Edgewood is primarily a food pantry. “We want to make sure that everyone is equipped before school,” she said. “That’s why we always have our event the last week of August, because by this time many of the families are out of their food stamp benefits, and this is a long stretch to the first, second and third of the month when they’re reinstated.”

“We want them to let down their hair, let them know that we care about them and that we’re here all year-round not just this event,” Scott-Miller said. With so many families still processing grief after losing family members during the pandemic, the organization wanted to give them a space to enjoy.

On the stage, The Gifted Onez, led by Kimberly Bridges, performed musical numbers.

“The Gifted Onez is about unity and love and uplifting the community with good vibes and energy,” said performer Mikayla Maxwell.

Jennie Murrell and her multigenerational family left with book bags, hand sanitizer and fresh produce.

“It went really well! The kids are excited, we got all that we needed,” Murrell said.

Brenda León is a corps member with Report for America, a national service program that places journalists into local newsrooms. Brenda covers the Latino/a, Latinx community with an emphasis on wealth-based disparities in health, education and criminal justice.