By Patty Booth O’Neill
Veronica Stubbs is a tornado with a heart. On Saturday, After School Tutoring in the Park (A.S.T.E.P) founded by Stubbs, handed out free backpacks to Long Branch students outside Second Baptist Church on Liberty Street. Hot lunches were also available donated by Meals at Noon. You can also watch a video of the event.
“We put it out there to the community that we were organizing a school supply drive,” Stubbs said. “So many in the community and organizations came together to donate, and Pastor Aaron Gibson was amazing.”
From August 12 to the 27th ASTEP set up in front of the church every afternoon for people to drop off donations of backpacks, school supplies or money.
As word spread donations began pouring in from organizations such as Monmouth Medical Center, Brookdale Community College, Presbyterian Church from Rumson, Colts Neck Church, Fidelity Lodge Number 42 and New Hope Church of God.
Handing out bags was well organized from beginning to end, with Carl Jennings, Director of the Long Branch Recreation Dept directing traffic, identifications being checked at another station and a group of volunteers set up under a tent distributing backpacks and lunches in the rain.
“The rain doesn’t matter,” Veronica insisted. “We were going to do this rain or shine.” And it didn’t matter as they handed out hundreds of bookbags that day.
Pastor Aaron Gibson was proud of what ASTEP and Veronica were doing. “It really takes someone with a vision to bring this together,” said Pastor Gibson. “Sister Veronica had the brainstorm not only to bring the community together, but to do all this. She was able to get a great group of people to dontate their time,” he said.
Tables were set up inside the church covered in backpacks sorted by grades K-5 and 6-12. There were 260 K-5 bookbags all with erasable white boards recommended by Jacob’s Ladder for the younger students, along with other school supplies, hand sanitizers and a face mask.
The white boards were purchased by the Second Baptist Church
“Thank God for all the donations that came through,” Veronica said. “All these bookbags are packed with items.”
ASTEP collected over 400 bookbags donated by the community, Brookdale Community College and the Long Branch Recreation Department.
Mayor John Pallone thought highly of the project. “She did a great job organizing this and getting the community involved,” he said.
So many people were responsible for this being a success, said Veronica, adding that someone appropriately named the event Unity in the Community. “Because it didn’t take just one of us, it took all of us to make this happen and all of us to make a difference,” she said.
“We are so grateful for our members and so grateful for the community,” Stubbs said.