Less than hour after the Sweets and Snacks Expo started Tuesday morning, the sweet mood was soured by about 20 protesters gathered in front of Hershey’s booth.
Holding signs reading, ‘No Kisses for Hershey’ and ‘Hershey School. Educate. Don’t Discriminate.’ they shouted things like, “What do we do when someone with AIDS is under attack? Fight back!”
The protesters were part of the Aids Healthcare Foundation and were there to draw attention to what they claim is discrimination by the Milton Hershey School, run by the Hershey Trust Fund. The school allegedly denied admission to an HIV-positive teenage boy, whose name has not been released, according to The Associated Press.
Hershey spokesman Jeff Beckman said Tuesday afternoon that although a Hershey Trust Fund runs both the school and the confectionery company, the confectionery company does not operate the school at all and therefore has no say in the matter.
Tom Joyce, v.p. of customer and industry affairs at Hershey, briefly addressed the incident Wednesday morning before the day’s keynote sessions, calling the activists “unexpected visitors.” He then invited everyone to visit the company website to learn about the company’s history and “commitment to corporate social responsibility.”
“Yesterday was a fantastic day on the show floor and for a few of us, it was a very exciting day,” said Joyce. “I would like to the thank the NCA staff and McCormick Place security for their prompt assistance in this unfortunate incident.”
Jessica Reinhart, grass roots community manager with the Aids Healthcare Foundation, says the protesters all bought buyer’s badges to enter the show floor. According to the information on the website for the Expo — organized by the National Confectioners Association (NCA) — the badges cost between $50 and $200 each depending on how far in advance they are purchased.
As soon as the protesting started, all of the protesters were escorted out by security and NCA staff.
They continued chanting while being taken to a back door that led to the loading dock. As expected, NCA officials were visibly upset about the situation.
Security was then instructed to take all the badges from the protesters, and while doing so they also allegedly tried to take their banners.
Reinhart says that while they were trying to take one of the banners from a mother in their group whose son is HIV positive, another protester, Eric Trujillo, 25, tried to stop the security guard. The two then got into a physical altercation and Trujillo was arrested.
“We expected to be escorted out, but we didn’t expect the authorities to be so forceful,” Reinhart says. “I think we really irked them and pushed some buttons. “
She says the group has been protesting Hershey since the boy was denied admission back in November, and plans to continue to do so until the company denounces the discrimination.
“There was a lot going on, but we kind of already know what a lot of people’s reactions are going to be — some are going to be negative and some are going to be positive,” Reinhart says. “I just don’t think a lot of people advocate now… and they think they’re actually not allowed to, but strategically if you’re smart and you register like we did, I mean, you can.”