MERIDEN — The fire department will host the 15th annual Back to School Expo at the Meriden Green later this month, making backpacks filled with school supplies available at no charge for underprivileged students from kindergarten through eighth grade on Aug. 21 from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m.
“This year we have over 1,000 backpacks that we are donating,” firefighter and event organizer Ryan Gilhuly said.
Gilhuly said parents can register their children for the event in order to receive a backpack. He said more than 20 community vendors will provide children with a stamp, and, after all stamps are collected, the child will receive a grade-appropriate backpack and a book.
“We specifically make a program so we don’t give away backpacks,” Gilhuly said. “Children feel pride in the ownership of their backpack.”
Mark Benigni, superintendent of schools, said the community-led event draws attention to the fact that summer is drawing to a close and the school year will start soon. He said the event get students and families excited for the start of school year on Aug. 27.
“The highlight of the event is the students receiving backpacks,” Benigni said. “With over 70 percent of students receiving free and reduced lunch, we know the need is there.”
Gilhuly said in addition to preparing students for the upcoming school year, the event will provide parents and students information about the services available to them within the community.
“The number of backpacks depends on the number of donations we receive every year from the public,” Gilhuly said. “We rely mostly on small dollar donations to buy the backpacks and supplies.”
Gilhuly said a group of around 40 union volunteers and members of the community will fill backpacks with school supplies on August 19 from 10:30 a.m. until 1:30 p.m. He said most of the volunteers are local firefighters and their families, but any member of the community is welcome to volunteer as well.
“We invite anyone who is willing to come to Engine 1 on Chamberlain,” Gilhuly said. “We have an assembly lined up. It’s a good way to give back to the community.”