Parents and children line up at the War Memorial Plaza on Saturday, waiting for free backpacks and school supplies at Mayor Catherine Pugh's annual back-to-school rally.
Parents and children line up at the War Memorial Plaza on Saturday, waiting for free backpacks and school supplies at Mayor Catherine Pugh's annual back-to-school rally. (Brittany Britto)

Parents and children lined up to get free backpacks decorated with smiley faces, baseball bats and sharks, and filled with school supplies at Mayor Catherine Pugh’s annual back-to-school rally.

The event, hosted at the War Memorial Plaza downtown Saturday, distributed around 3,200 backpacks ahead of the Sept. 4 start date for city schools. Fewer than 100 backpacks were left over, which will be distributed next week, Pugh spokesman James E. Bentley II wrote via text message.

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Bentley said this year’s rally was more successful than last year’s, when the city gave away more than 1,000 backpacks.

“Mayor Pugh has made creating pathways for youth to succeed a priority,” he wrote. “Today’s rally was just one prong in her overall strategy to empower youth.”

The rally also featured an array of sponsors, including the Baltimore Fire Department, which taught hands-on CPR; the Enoch Pratt Library; and the Baltimore City Health Department, which delivered immunizations to children in the War Memorial Building. Performers such as Baltimore child rapper King Quan and a Michael Jackson impersonator livened up the audience members while they waited in the heat for their complimentary school gear.

Baltimore County schools offering free meals for students who previously received discounts

The Baltimore County Cares for Kids program will provide free meals to students who previously received them at a discount.

Some waited for hours.

Abelina Giron, 33, a South Baltimore mother of six, waited with five of her children for three hours, but both she and her children were grateful for the backpacks and bags stocked with notebooks, loose leaf paper, pencils and erasers.

“It helped us by giving us school supplies,” said her son Kevin Giron, 11.

Leon Anderson, 50, of West Baltimore, brought several of his 12 children to the event and endured the same wait.

Anderson, who said he comes every year, was pleased.

“I ain’t gotta buy no backpacks,” he said.

His sons Jarrell, 9, and Jayshawn Williams, 13, were also happy. Jarrell was excited to see artist King Quan, while Jayshawn enjoyed playing tag and mingling with friends ahead of the school year.

“I was happy I saw some of my classmates,” he said.

After exiting the line, the sons of Melanie Caldwell, 37, of Baltimore — ages 8, 6 and 4 — enthusiastically traded colored binders.

“They had fun,” she said, adding that the boys got free drinks and supplies, including pencil cases, pens and crayons. It’s a huge help for Caldwell, who says the school her sons go to requires a lot of supplies, which often total around $300 per year for the three children.

“Any financial help, I’ll take it,” Caldwell said.

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Pugh emphasized that the community has to make sure children are prepared and equipped to get their education.

“We have an obligation to make sure that our young people have all of the resources, support and obvious care and concern they need and deserve as they begin a new school year,” Pugh said in an emailed statement. “As a community we must rally around the youth of our city and do everything we can to smooth their path and support their success.”

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