MERIDEN — Excitement was evident on the faces of students and parents as they carried out backpacks and paper bags with meals from the annual Back to School Expo, which took place on Friday at Maloney High School, Lincoln Middle School and John Barry Elementary School.
More than 800 backpacks with grade-specific school supplies, water bottles, books and lunch were given out at the event, which was sponsored by Meriden Public Schools and Firefighters Local 1148.
The event officially started at 11 a.m., but at John Barry School a line of people began forming by 9:30 a.m. Katelynn Gomez, who was at the school helping with lunch distribution, said by noon all the backpacks were gone.
According to Ryan Gilhuly, chairman of the Back to School Expo and a member of the Meriden Fire Department, more than 300 backpacks were distributed at John Barry alone.
Lincoln also had a line starting around 10 a.m. A total 216 backpacks were distributed.
Gilhuly said it was a “great day” with a “great turnout.”
Yoelny Sosa, a mother with three children in the school district, picked up meals at Lincoln Middle School.
She said the meals help because of the financial hardships caused by the pandemic. Her children enjoy the meals the schools have been providing throughout the pandemic.
Sosa was also hopeful she could get some backpacks, but they had run out when she got there around 12:30.
The same thing happened at Maloney, where a line also formed before the event started.
Jason Bergeron, a firefighter that helps coordinate the event, was happy about the turnout. He said as the team at Maloney passed out backpacks, they wished each child “good luck” for the upcoming school year.
He said his favorite part of the event was seeing the students and knowing the supplies will be put to good use. Some children opened up the backpacks as soon as they got them.
Mirna Santiago felt good about the event, she said, calling it “something nice for the community.”
Her 10-year-old son Yadiel Gonzalez was excited to receive a backpack and couldn’t wait to open it.
Santiago, who has three children in the school district, stressed that the meals are a great help, particularly for working parents since they are foods that can be easily handled by children.
At Maloney, Leonidas Pallo was at the event for first time this year. He also has three children in the school district and said receiving meals and supplies was motivating.
A total of 324 backpacks were given out at the high school.
Gilhuly said the event has been going on for 18 years, but Friday and last year it was a bit different because of the pandemic.
“We took an abundance of caution to make this event happen this year because we know how important it is for the families that rely on it,” he said. “There’s a lot of kids within the community that really look forward to this event and it’s their opportunity to get the school supplies that they need for their education.”
Community members are welcome to donate to the event all year long.
Monetary donations, school supplies and backpacks can be dropped off at any of the firehouses in Meriden.
For more information about the event, visit its Facebook page, Meriden Back to School Expo.