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Variety hosts back-to-school festival

Following the first week of in-person learning, hundreds of families enjoyed a back-to-school festival at the Variety Boys and Girls Club of Queens (VBGC) in Astoria, marking the start of a new school year.
With the support of over a dozen community partners, the all-day celebration included school supply giveaways, local food vendors and outdoor activities for hundreds of students in Queens.
With last year’s back-to-school festival cancelled due to the pandemic, club CEO Costa Constantinides said it was extra special to help students feel normal again in a kid-friendly atmosphere.
With six sites serving over 4,000 area youth, the club is the largest youth services provider in western Queens.
“Today is a celebration,” Constantinides said. “We understand the gravity of the responsibility we have to provide them with an after-school experience and help them get back to normal.”
As a father of a son who hasn’t seen the classroom in over 18 months, Constantinides stressed the importance of the educational resources available at the club, as well as helping families through tough times.
“I know so many children in New York City who had a very similar situation,” he said. “From dealing with the angst of COVID, a family member losing their job or losing a family member, we hope to help them through the tension of this pandemic and help them feel like a kid again.”
School supplies were available to families through donations from the offices of Borough President Donovan Richards and State Senator Mike Gianaris, corporate sponsors and volunteer drives. Both Richards and Gianaris made appearances at the all-day event.
The hot and sunny day also called for Constantinides to sit in the dunk tank, making a splash for a good cause.
Elsbeth Grant, the club’s Chief Advancement Officer, would also be a dunk tank victim, saying it was wonderful to have kids back at the club playing again.
“It feels so great to have kids back at the club safely,” said Grant. “We want going back to school to be an exciting experience. I’m sure it can be scary with everything going on, we just want to support our community by making it fun and helping them prepare to go back to the classroom.”
Community partners joining the festival included Chip Cookies, San Antonio’s Wood Fired Pizza, Ample Hill Creamery and STEM learning from the BioBus. A vaccine pop-up station was also made available by the state Department of Health.
Volunteer Ashley Dean helped organize a school supply drive with her local running group, and chose the club to be the recipients of the backpacks and notebooks she collected over a month-long period.
“School is expensive for a lot of families,” said Dean. “People have multiple children so it’s nice to be able to ease a burden. Setting the kids up to succeed is important, especially right now.”

City vaccine mandate goes into effect

Mayor Bill de Blasio announced the Key to NYC vaccination mandate for indoor dining, entertainment and fitness began on August 17. Enforcement will begin, with a multi-agency coalition, on September 13.
“New York City has one mission: defeat the delta variant and build a recovery for all of us,” said Mayor Bill de Blasio. “The Key to NYC sends a powerful message that vaccination will unlock our city’s potential, and we’ll stop at nothing to save lives and keep New Yorkers safe.”
The city will conduct an aggressive outreach and education campaign, including a $10 million multi-platform paid media campaign. This campaign will include radio, TV, digital, social, subway live boards.
Approximately 600 canvassers will be going door to door for affected businesses with the goal of reaching every zip code in the city in the next three weeks.
Indoor entertainment venus affected include movie theaters, music and concert venues, museums and galleries, aquariums and zoos, professional sports arenas, indoor stadiums, convention centers, exhibition halls, performing arts theaters, bowling alleys, arcades, pool and billiard halls, recreational game centers, adult entertainment, and indoor play areas.
Indoor dining establishment affected by the mandate include restaurants, catering halls, hotel banquet rooms, bars, nightclubs, cafeterias, grocery stores with indoor dining, coffee shops, and fast food/quick service with indoor dining
Indoor fitness facilities affected include gyms, fitness centers, fitness classes, pools, indoor studios, and dance studios
Places excluded from this mandate include dining where food is consumed offsite or outdoors only. Businesses that choose to remove indoor seating entirely are not subject to the mandate.
Other exclusions include residential and office buildings, childcare programs, pre-K through grade 12 public and non-public schools and programs, senior centers, churches hosting Sunday potlucks or similar events, community centers, charitable food services, and catering at someone’s home
People excluded from this mandate include children under the age of 12, and anyone entering for a minimum amount of time required for a limited purpose, such as bathroom use or picking up or placing an order.
Other people not required to comply with the mandate include performing artists who do not reside in New York City and are not regularly employed by the entity, professional athletes or members of professional sports teams who do not reside in the city but enter a premises for the purpose of competing, and individuals accompanying performing artists or a sports team or professional athlete as part of their regular employment and who do not reside in New York City.
Contractors who do not reside with in the five boroughs are also excluded.
Each Key to NYC business should consider appropriate reasonable accommodations, mindful of the purposes behind this policy and public health.
There are multiple ways to show proof of vaccination. These include a photo or hard copy of a CDC vaccination card, NYC COVID Safe App, New York State Excelsior App, official vaccine record, or a photo or hard copy of an official vaccination record of a vaccine administered outside the United States.
Affected small businesses with questions can contact the Department of Small Business Services hotline at 888-SBS-4NYC (888-727-4692), 311, or go online at nyc.gov/keytonyc.
Penalties for failure to comply after September 13 start at $1,000 and can reach $5,000 for repeated violators.
“The Key to NYC will unlock many of our favorite activities,” said Health Commissioner Dr. Dave Chokshi. “Vaccination makes every activity safer and this is a common-sense precaution to keep patrons of gyms, restaurants and indoor entertainment healthy.”

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