And parents were pleasantly surprised to learn that ambulances parked outside with lights flashing were not there for an emergency, but to help raise awareness for the charity event Ben & Jerry's was hosting to benefit West New York's Emergency Medical Services unit.
EMTs (Emergency Medical Technicians) gave mini-tours of the ambulance and some volunteered to scoop ice cream for the influx of customers in search of a free treat.
Co-owners Sibel and Pierre Berberoglu greeted and served the school children who came by the busload, and EMTs offered free blood pressure screenings to patrons, including seniors who made the trip in groups. Clowns came to paint faces and Triple Platinum, an entertainment company, provided music.
Helping them to help everyone
"We're going to build awareness for the EMTs and what they do and try to get some money for them," said Sibel Berberoglu, "and we're officially kicking off the ice cream season."
Last year, West New York's Ben & Jerry's gave out 1,500 cones, and this year, they hoped to triple that number. Also, last year, they raised more than $500 for the Palisades Medical Center Foundation. All this was in their first time participating in the chain-wide event.
"It's the anniversary of Ben & Jerry's. Ben & Jerry's is turning 30 this year, and Free Cone Day is always done on the anniversary of them opening the first scoop shop," Berberoglu said.
In an effort to contribute to the community, she noted that the beneficiary of this year's anniversary event was chosen after speaking with the mayor about what would be the best hometown cause for donations.
"We wanted to do something that would benefit the town of West New York, and we felt that the EMTs needed funding for more equipment," she explained. "We felt that helping them to get the money and equipment they needed would ultimately help everyone in West New York."
West New York Commissioner of Public Safety Lawrence Riccardi came to see the smiling kids line up at the counter, and he explained that the town's Emergency Medical Services team is always in need.
"We're one of the few ambulances that does not charge for services, so everything is covered by the town," said Riccardi, explaining that there would be two ambulances on site and a bucket inside the shop for donations.
Approximately half a dozen EMTs were at Ben & Jerry's, which is actually almost half the EMT workers for the entire town (and some are volunteers), for a total of two ambulances serving more than 40,000 people and taking an estimated 5,000 calls a year, according to Riccardi.
Union City resident and West New York EMT Julissa Gubman volunteered to scoop ice cream, saying, "It's a lot of fun - [the kids] love it." She added that any amount to help them out would be appreciated. "We could get more ambulances, more supplies."
Fellow EMT Alex Negron, also of Union City, helped the kids see the inside of an ambulance for the first time.
"I think it will help them understand what we do," said Negron. "Most kids have never been in an ambulance - they might have been on a fire engine or in a police car, but this way, they get to see what we do, what we deal with, what equipment we use."
Getting their just desserts
Commissioner Michelle Fernandez-Lopez had the idea to bring the third grade students of Harry L. Bain School to Free Cone Day to give them a treat for all their hard work.
"We planned to bring the seniors here," said Fernandez-Lopez, "and then I thought about the third graders, since it's a testing grade [citing NJ ASK], and I thought it was like a reward for them."
The commissioner and her oldest daughter, 9-year-old Rachel, both got a cone of chocolate. Rachel had no idea what to expect getting on the ambulance but she was excited to get on one.
Third grade teacher Jillian Rabadan only learned about the EMTs fund raising upon arrival, but planned to discuss it and the experience of the ambulance with the students when they got back to the classroom.
Regulars from the neighborhood included Buffy Koczwara who brought her sons, Hudson and Mason, for scoops of the plain classics, and though she didn't know about the charity fund raising, she made sure she contributed. "The money that we would have spent on ice cream we're going to donate."
Third graders Daphne, 8, Esther, Melanie, and Francis, who are all 9, enjoyed the ice cream most of all, but the ambulance was something "cool" to see.
"I got lemon - my favorite. I loved it!" said Melanie, who had never been on an ambulance, but declared, "I think it's a great experience."
Enjoying a scoop of Vanilla Fudge Chip, Daphne even said she might want to be an EMT.
Christopher Walsh, a guidance counselor at West New York Middle School who enjoyed a free Chunky Monkey cone, heard about the promotion from a friend, but only found out about the charitable effort when he arrived. "It's good to see a store or a company contributing to the community - it's an added benefit," said Walsh, who intended to return at 3 p.m. with his 4-year-old daughter Abigail for a cone and to see the ambulance. "She [will love] it. She has a little doctor's kit at home."
Comments can be sent to Mpaul@hudsonreporter.com.