Backpack Giveaway Program Approved With Police Sponsor

BERLIN – Plans for a backpack giveaway in Berlin will move forward thanks to sponsorship from the Berlin Police Department.

The police department agreed to partner with Berlin natives Nathan Marshall and Ty Waters to host a backpack giveaway in response to town officials’ request that the pair find a non-profit to work with.

“I’d encourage you to use this as a learning experience and see if it develops into a long-term partnership,” Mayor Gee Williams said.

Marshall first presented plans for an Aug. 22 backpack giveaway and back to school celebration last month. At that time, Williams told him the town typically approved events that were sponsored by a non-profit.

Waters, who is working with Marshall on the effort, returned to the council this week and said the event — planned for Henry Park —  would be held in conjunction with Berlin Head Start. Though Waters received approval from staff there, Councilman Elroy Brittingham said the organization’s board of directors, of which he is a member, had not had the opportunity to consider the matter. The board, he added, would not even meet again before the event was set to be held.

Waters said he and Marshall had already purchased 80 backpacks for the event and were working on getting donations of items to fill them.

“We’ve been working hard on this,” Waters said.

Rather than see the event canceled, Berlin Police Chief Arnold Downing said his department would act as the event’s sponsor. He said the giveaway would need to be scaled down a bit. The hours will be decreased from eight to five and the event will no longer include closure of the street near Henry Park.

Councilmember Lisa Hall said she hoped Marshall and Waters didn’t get discouraged by the changes they needed to make to the event this year. She believes a backpack giveaway in Berlin would prove valuable.

Hall suggested Waters contact Worcester Youth and Family Counseling Services for a list of children who might be able to benefit from the free backpacks.

“It bothers me that half the children in this county live in poverty,” she said.

Councilmembers agreed that they would be able to approve the event if Marshall and Waters worked with the police department but advised the pair to come back for formal approval at the July 27 meeting.

“We want this to happen,” Williams said. “As you’re going to find out as you get into charitable work it takes more than good intentions.”