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Businesses help students

Regardless whether school is virtual or in person this fall, about two dozen Smithfield-area students will be equipped with free new backpacks filled with supplies thanks to a local business.

Smithfield’s Verizon Wireless store at 1807 S. Church St. was one of about 800 Verizon-authorized retailers under the TCC and Wireless Zone banners to participate in an annual nationwide backpack giveaway event on July 26. Nationally, about 140,000 supply-filled backpacks are donated to students annually. Five students across the country also had the opportunity to receive $10,000 college scholarships.

ComServe Wireless, which owns about 16 Verizon stores in Virginia, including the Smithfield location, gave away nearly 200 backpacks overall.

“We know it’s expensive to send a child to school,” wirelesszone.com wrote in a blog promoting the event. According to the Huntington bank’s annual backpack index, the estimated cost to send an elementary-aged student to school was $1,017 in 2019.

Each backpack has a folder, notebook, pencils, pens, crayons and a pencil box. Any backpacks that aren’t given away are donated to local churches or community organizations, who in turn, can share them with students in need.

Although this year’s event had a lower turnout due to the coronavirus pandemic, “we like to do good for our community, so us getting the opportunity for this backpack giveaway was something we always want to be a part of,” said Blake McNiece, ComServe’s sales and operations director. “Even this year, with everything being a little different obviously, with everything going on, we still wanted to have something there. We did have kids that needed supplies and a backpack for school when it does start.”

In August, the company usually holds a similar event for teachers, providing supplies ahead of school opening. Typically, the company delivers the supplies in person to the teachers in their classrooms. McNiece said the company believes that “if you give back to the community they give back to you.”

“We’re a local business,” he continued. “We want to make sure that people understand that we do live in their communities. We want to give back, we like to donate to the schools. It’s a cycle — if you’re doing good by your community, they’re going to do good by you. That’s kind of what we live by.”

Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, the company’s employees have been at work, as phone service is considered an essential business. They’ve adapted by offering curbside service and other changes to protect everyone’s health. Although some Verizon corporate stores in the region have closed, “our people have been there everyday,” McNiece said.