Meriden Back to School event helps families struggling with education expenses
On Friday, the Meriden Fire Department Union, Local 1148, organized their 20th annual back-to-school event to help families.
Lt. Ryan Gilhuly, a firefighter for 30 years, is deeply connected to the Meriden community and helped organize the event. He said the Union recognizes the need to assist families in giving their children a better future.
"The idea of the program itself is to support, inform, and supply the families of Meriden with the necessities for educational growth and empowerment," Gilhuly said.
The Meriden community donated the school supplies. About 11,000 students benefited from the event over the past 13 years. This year about 800 students received school supplies and a backpack during the event.
"As far as the needs within the community, as a fire department, we are servicing people in their worst days," Gilhuly said. "You know, we often see families that come year after year because they rely on the program."
A Data Haven study indicates that the median household income in Meriden is $58,843 compared to $78,444 statewide. The study also includes disparities between households led by Black or Latino adults in education, employment, and wages compared to white households.
Jeimy Silva, originally from Colombia, lives in Meriden. She has a seven-year-old son and said this event benefits the community, especially when working families struggle financially.
"Whatever I could spend on books, they are giving us for free,” Silva said. “Pencils, notebooks. I can use that money to buy my son a shirt or provide him with food. Work opportunities have dropped in this state. It's time to squeeze in because winter is coming, and things get more difficult.
Dr. Lysette Torres is the Meriden public school's director of equity and inclusion. She is a Meriden native of Puerto Rican heritage. She said that the Board of Education has heard of families financially struggling.
"Our food department has done a fantastic job ever since COVID providing meals for our families throughout the summer as well," Torres said. "Also, in school, all of our students get free breakfast and lunch, so students can come into school if they don't get the chance to eat at home."
Torres said about 70 percent of students in Meriden are Hispanics.
Evelyn Rodriguez is from Ecuador and lives in Meriden. She takes care of her grandchildren while their parents work.
"The situation is financially complicated, but we have God's help. I don't work; only the parents of my grandchildren do. And so we try to help each other."