Hundreds of children beamed with excitement as they entered the cafeterias of and elementary schools Wednesday morning.
Factory workers from in Union City and a representative from national non-profit Kids in Need Foundation had surprise gifts waiting for them on their first day back to school — almost 1,500 new backpacks stuffed with school supplies.
“If every child comes to school with the same chance and equal supplies, their attendance goes up because grades improve and, really, their self-esteem, because it shows people care about them,” said Jeanne Mock, a representative from Kids in Need.
The non-profit provides free school supplies to economically disadvantaged youth. Both Emanuele and Searles were selected because at least 70 percent of the students receive free and reduced lunch, according to Mock.
“We have a lot of families who are in need,” said Heidi Green, principal of Emanuele. “Whenever we can do anything for our families to alleviate costs, we do. This was a great thing for these two companies to come together.”
A total of 1,470 Trailmaker Classic backpacks filled with folders, notebooks, pencils, crayons, pens, glue sticks and other classroom essentials were given to the local elementary schools, with 750 distributed at Emanuele and 720 at Searles.
The donations were facilitated by Kids in Need via a $60,000 grant from American Licorice, according to Mock. Backpacks were also donated to schools in La Porte, Ind., where another factory is located, and Bend, Ore., where American Licorice is headquartered. About 5,000 were distributed in total among the three cities.
The New Haven school students also received RedVines water bottles.
“We’re trying to give back to the community. This is where our people work, this is where they live,” said Paul Silvey, director of manufacturing at American Licorice Company. “We’ve been fortunate in this economy to do okay and hold our own. If we can give back to the community, we will.”
Eighty percent of American Licorice’s Union City employees have children in the New Haven Unified School District, Silvey said. The company also donates to local agencies and organizations, such as the Alameda County Food Bank, Silvey said.
At Emanuele, children’s faces lit up as they filed in and strapped on their new backpacks.
“Cool, it’s like Christmas!” one child exclaimed.
Parents and teachers were also grateful for the donations.
“A mom came up to me talking about how much she appreciated this. It can be so expensive,” said Cynthia Tria, a fifth grade teacher at Emanuele. “A lot of kids get embarrassed because they don’t come to school with supplies. They have to borrow from others and it’s hard for them to ask.”