Inez Taylor of Belair-Edison sat in the midst of the city's bustling back-to-school rally Saturday afternoon, waiting patiently for the backpacks with school supplies to be handed out for free.
She wasn't about to miss it. She has five kids, all school-age — and that's a lot of supplies.
"Anything that can help me get my kids ready for school, I appreciate it," she said.
The event, put on annually by the mayor's office, drew a few thousand people to the War Memorial Plaza beside City Hall. Volunteers handed out the backpacks to all comers who visited booths with information about the school lunch program, the state's college savings plan and other resources — thereby completing a "hall pass" punch card.
Some city residents got an ill-timed heads-up about the event Friday: a robocall before 6 a.m. The Baltimore public school system apologized in a statement, saying the robocalls went out Thursday evening as planned but started up again by mistake the next morning.
Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, who recorded the call, was among those who received it Friday.
Some groggy recipients were angry. But Nikki Rogers of East Baltimore, who said she received the call at 5:48 a.m., happened to be up already for work — and was glad to get the message.
"I thought it was maybe one of my friends or something," she said. "Then I heard Stephanie Rawlings-Blake's voice saying, 'Come on down.' I said, 'All right.'"
Shortly before 3 p.m., Rogers waited in the long line for backpacks. She'd already bought supplies for her school-age children, 5, 7 and 10, but she was happy to take extras to get them through the whole year. She figured she'd already spent about $30 per child on required items, including tissues and hand sanitizer.
Event volunteers stuffed 5,000 backpacks with supplies — crayons, notebooks, pencils and glue for younger children, and binders, pens and the like for older students. Sabrina Sutton, a mayor's office staff member who helps organize that portion of the event every year, estimated that more than 2,000 were passed out.
Parents brought babies, toddlers, teens and a dog or two to the event. The mayor told them to have the best school year yet, while interim schools CEO Tisha Edwards urged parents to get their kids to class every day.
Before the line formed for backpacks, children danced to the pop music blaring from speakers, waited for immunizations and picked up giveaways.
Tynesha Austin, 9, made two miniature toolboxes — one for her, one for her mother — at the Home Depot booth.
"Oh, that's great," said booth volunteer Michelle Wheeler, admiring Tynesha's handiwork.
Other children paused at Maryland Physicians Care's Healthy Groove booth to play with jump ropes and other equipment designed to get them in motion. Audrey Eads grinned as her 5-year-old daughter, Morgan, tried to figure out the hula hoop.
"You gotta move!" she called out to the girl.
Morgan, a bit too small for the big hoop, is about to start kindergarten.
"She can't wait," Eads said. "Neither can I."
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