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Groton — Riley Henley said she liked the color purple, so she was handed a purple backpack brimming with school supplies.
Noticing how heavy it was, the 5-year-old shook it, rattling around the folders, markers, scissors, crayons and notebooks inside. She promptly strapped it on her back.
“I like it,” said Riley, who is starting first grade.
Riley’s father David Henley is a machinist’s mate on the USS California. Her mother, Marybeth Henley, said that with five children including newborn twins, she looks to cut costs anywhere she can. Which is why she was particularly grateful for the free backpacks and school supplies she received for her two oldest on Friday.
Operation Homefront Tri-State and K.I.D.S., Kids in Distressed Situations, partnered to give local military families free backpacks, printers and back-to-school clothing, distributing the items Friday at the Balfour Beatty housing.
“This is awesome. They should do more stuff like this to help out military families,” said Marybeth Henley, who planned to go home and call other Navy wives so they could stop by, too.
Tracy Handschuh, program director for Operation Homefront Tri-State, said she brought nearly 300 backpacks to relieve some of the financial burden on military families. Families of junior enlisted personnel were invited to the event rather than senior enlisted or higher-paid officers.
She said it was the first time the nonprofit had been to Groton.
“Every kid deserves a fresh set of supplies and a backpack to start school,” Handschuh said. “And if Dad is going to be gone for months at a time, we’re here to support them.”
Crystal Snyder is proud of her husband for being in the submarine force, but she said she couldn’t really even calculate how much he would earn if he was paid for every hour he worked during a six-month deployment.
“It’s excellent that a community organization recognizes that and tries to make up some of the cost and sacrifice,” said Snyder, who has five children.
Leslie Mayol recently moved from Florida because her husband is a student at the Naval Submarine School. Mayol, who sold many of her belongings rather than ship them, brought her 8-year-old son to the event for a new backpack.
“This really shows their appreciation toward the armed forces,” she said. “And it’s a big help for families like us who are just starting out in the Navy.”