MERIDEN — The local firefighters’ union gave away about a thousand backpacks to students in Pre-K through 8th grade at the city’s 16th annual Back-to-School Expo Tuesday.
“It’s a great event, not only for the community but for the kids,” said Dave Richardson, who attended the expo Tuesday with his 12-year-old daughter, Ashley, who is going into the 8th grade at Washington Middle School.
“Everybody is nice here and it helps people that can’t get their own stuff. Everybody is just welcoming and it makes it easier for little kids to come,” Ashley Richardson said.
This year’s expo was held from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Tuesday at the Meriden Green amphitheater.
The firefighters’ union, Meriden Fire Local 1148, organizes the event each year by collecting backpacks and stuffing them with school supplies. Firefighter and event organizer Ryan Gilhuly said the union collected about 1,000 packbacks for this year’s event, and he expected they would all be given away.
Gilhuly said the annual expo is the union’s biggest annual outreach effort. Preparation and fundraising begins a year in advance for each expo, he said.
“It’s a 100 percent volunteer-ran event where we give 100 percent of the donations we receive,” Gilhuly said.
Meriden resident Juana Gonzalez took the day off from work Tuesday to attend the expo with her two grandchildren, 5-year-old Jasmine and 7-year-old Jacinda.
“I think Meriden’s good to (hold the expo),” she said. “When I was growing up (in the Mills Memorial Apartments) we didn’t have anything like this.”
The event is also a chance for residents to learn more about the services offered by about 15 local nonprofits that set up booths at the event. After registering at the event, families are required to visit a certain number of booths before getting a backpack.
“It helps get our name out to let the community know that we’re here to help the kids,” said Steve Maheu, exalted ruler of the Meriden Elks nonprofit.