An anonymous donor has given $1.6 million to 40 Grade 8 graduates in Leamington, Ont. — and the students were told the same day the historic Heinz plant officially closed and put hundreds out of work.

The 40 students at Queen of Peace elementary school have each received a $40,000 scholarship — $10,000 for each of four years for post-secondary education — good only if they choose to attend nearby Cardinal Carter Catholic high school in Leamington, southeast of Windsor.

Two Grade classes, consisting of a total of 40 students — including a set of triplets — and their parents were called to the office Friday and school officials told them that an anonymous donor had made the contribution.

Ashlin Mastronardi, one of the students, was shaking on her way to the office, not knowing why she was called in.

"I didn’t really know what was going on," she said.

The principal broke the news.

"It went quiet and then all the parents started to cry. I just looked at my mom and she started crying," Mastronardi said. "No one really knew what to say."

'Everyone is so grateful'

The donor wants to remain anonymous, but is a great believer in Catholic education and post-secondary education, a spokesperson for the Windsor-Essex Catholic District School Board told CBC Windsor.

"I would just say thank you so much for everything they’ve done. This is a great burden they’ve lifted off some parents," Mastronardi said.

The shutdown of the 105-year-old H.J. Heinz Co. tomato processing plant put 740 employees out of work.

"Everyone is so thankful. Some parents don’t have the money to send their kids off to school," said Mastronardi, who wants to attend hairdressing school and start her own business after graduation.

She said one other stipulation for a scholarship is that the student must graduate from Cardinal Carter.

Corrections

  • An earlier version of this story said 24 students were receiving scholarships In fact, 40 are.
    Jun 30, 2014 11:34 AM ET