NATALBANY — It was an exciting first day of school Thursday for students at Natalbany Elementary school, as employees from Target greeted them with resounding cheers.

As students stepped off the bus, and parents dropped their children off at school, a steady line of students formed.

All of them waited their turn while Target employees handed each of the 500 students a bag of school supplies and healthy snacks.

“We’re giving back to the community,” Target Manager Michael Foster said.

“I definitely think it’s important,” Foster said, adding that giving away the free goodies is in keeping with Target’s goal of promoting early childhood development.

“I think it’s important to give the kids school supplies and some of the essential things that they need,” he added.

Natalbany Elementary School Principal Terran Perry agreed.

“So many of our kids go without, and we wanted their first day to be special,” Perry said. “This is something they’ll always remember.”

“We wanted to have a little fun too with the kids on the first day of school,” Perry said.

Tommy Plauche smiled as he received his free goodies.

A third-grader at the school, Tommy said he was excited about the gifts and the first day of school.

Fallon O’Neal, a senior team leader at the Target store in Hammond, said being able to help students in need is what it’s all about.

“Education is very important to me,” Fallon said. “I went to an underprivileged school, so it touches my heart to do this for the kids.”

“We’re here to inspire them, and let them know that they can do anything they want to do in life,” Fallon said.

Jamie Robertson, whose children, Oscar Warren and Jada Warren, attend Natalbany elementary seemed just as excited as her children.

Immediately after receiving his bag, Oscar peeked inside, finding an apple, a banana, crayons, water and paper.

“I think it is so sweet,” Robertson said.

“It’s very exciting,” Robertson added. “They should have had this when I was in school; I would have been more excited.”

The line moved quickly as Target employees distributed the bags, teachers assisting.

“This shows that we have our community’s support,” school Administrative Assistant Kristy Peterman said.

“It shows our parents that we mean business,” Peterman said.

“I think it’s a very inspiring thing,” fifth-grade teacher Lacy Ard said. “It’s a great kickoff to a great year, and it’s a real honor to be here.”

As he made his way to each Hammond and Ponchatoula school Thursday, Tangipahoa Parish Public School Superintendent Mark Kolwe watched students receive their supplies.

“It’s great; it gets the kids excited,” Kolwe said.

In addition to providing the bags, school supplies and snacks, Perry said the school’s partnership with the school will continue throughout the 2011-2012 school year.

The two are currently working together on a school field trip grant, and Target has donated items to the school’s Positive Behavior Incentive Support program, which rewards students for good behavior.

Perry said Target is also going to support their goal of making sure each child is proficient in reading by the third grade.