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The back-to-school rally at War Memorial Plaza drew hundreds of children and their families Saturday.
The back-to-school rally at War Memorial Plaza drew hundreds of children and their families Saturday. (Michael-Brice-Saddler, Baltimore Sun)

Hundreds of children and their families gathered Saturday at War Memorial Plaza in downtown Baltimore to get free school supplies and other resources to prepare for the coming academic year.

The city gave away more than 1,000 backpacks as well as other school supplies at its annual back-to-school rally, led by Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh. She said the event is part of the city's effort to make sure children have everything they need before classes begin Sept. 5.

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"We have 80,000 young people in our school system, so we want to make sure every child that is in need gets what they need to go back to school," said Pugh.

In addition to free school supplies, various city agencies were offering services, including the Heath Department, which provided free vaccinations and HIV and STD testing, and the Department of Transportation, which helped parents identify the bus routes closest to their children's schools. Children and adults were also offered free dental cleanings and resume workshops.

Alicia Tinsley said the good weather and atmosphere of the event made it worthwhile for her and her niece.

"It's nice that the city is reaching out to the young people to give them school supplies," said Tinsley, whose niece is entering the fourth grade. Pugh said leftover materials — if there are any — will be distributed at community centers throughout the city.

The rally came on the second day of Baltimore's "Nobody Kill Anybody" weekend ceasefire effort. Nobody was shot or killed Friday, which Pugh said shows people are taking the ceasefire seriously. A shooting was reported Saturday afternoon in the Park Heights neighborhood.

"Let's cease the violence and, more importantly, let's make our city safe," Pugh said. To keep the city safe for residents and children, "everybody has to get into the action," she added.

Part of that action, Pugh said, is reaching out to children early on. She cited the city's YouthWorks program, which provided jobs for more than 8,000 children this summer, as an example.

"Children don't have to be defined by where they live, because every opportunity we can provide for them, we will," Pugh said.

Ronald Miller, who has a grandson entering second grade, said he was grateful for the free materials the city was offering.

"My daughter is a single parent, and this will help her," Miller said. "Now, instead of book supplies, she can buy some extra food or another uniform."

Crystal Seymour said she hoped to get free school supplies and food for her four children.

"The majority of stuff I can get now, and whatever's left that I need, I won't have to spend as much money," Seymour said.

Rally attendees were also able to learn skills such as CPR, which the city Fire Department was demonstrating at one end of the plaza.

Theresa Grimes, who has nine children in school, said the CPR class showed her the basics of the technique and how to respond appropriately in an emergency situation.

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"Just in case somebody is in need, now I'm prepared to help," Grimes said.

Some of the private sponsors for the rally included the Home Depot, the Family League of Baltimore, Kaiser Permanente and the Maryland Food Bank.

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