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SOUTH BRONX, N.Y. — Every December, Dr. Asya Johnson hosts a winter pep rally for her students at Longwood Preparatory Academy in the South Bronx. The rally is a time to recognize student achievement and hand out holiday gifts.

Johnson, the school’s principal, was determined to keep the tradition going this year despite the coronavirus pandemic.

“A lot of students are missing that connection,” Johnson said. “A lot of kids have gone through depression, kids who used to be engaged in school just no longer want to connect.”

With her Santa hat on, Johnson invited students to stop by the school building on Tuesday. She gave everyone a new hoodie and, thanks to New York Cares, each student received a holiday gift of their choice.

“Ms. Johnson doing stuff like this really does help out the mood of 2020,” 11th-grader David Guadalupe told PIX11 News. “We had such an amazing time.”

The school also opened its food pantry, sending 70 students home with enough groceries to feed their families for at least a week.

Jamila T. Davis, who helps run the after-school program EGL PUD, said the food pantry is “a big deal” for many families.

“People don’t take that into to mind, sometimes when schools close, then families no longer have the resources and the support that they’re accustomed to,” Davis said.

There’s no telling when this school community will be able to learn together again in-person, but for one day they were able to feel a bit of normalcy.

“We didn’t want COVID to be the reason why we stopped giving our kids gifts,” Johnson said.