Prince George’s gives away 9,000 backpacks at annual back-to-school party

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Teayana Battle wasn’t sure how she would pay for her children’s school supplies this year. She was on maternity leave this past year and didn’t have the money to purchase everything like she used to. Battle, of Lanham, knew she needed help.

That’s when she heard about Prince George’s County’s ninth annual Back-2-School Block Party, an opportunity for families from across the county to celebrate the start of the school year and, most important, get free backpacks and supplies.

Battle brought her 15-year-old daughter, Tamya Battle, and her 7-year-old son, Terrell Breedlove, on Saturday. They were among hundreds of families who waited hours outside in the heat to get into the Prince George’s Sports and Learning Complex field house.

Children rushed into the gymnasium and were greeted by cheering organizers and Michael Jackson songs blasting over the speakers. Terrell lined up with other second-graders and picked out his book bag: a blue one with bright green zippers.

“It’s really nice to have this available from the county,” Battle said.

Nearly 9,000 people came for the backpack giveaway, one of many programs at the event. With free supplies, vision exams, information from schools in the area and fun activities for kids, the county welcomed in the new school year — set to start Sept. 3 — and helped many residents in need.

The goal of event organizer Barbara Holt Streeter was to serve the county’s students, some of whom might not have access to school supplies. About 9,000 people preregistered for backpacks, Holt Streeter said, but the county prepared about 3,000 more for any walk-ins. More than a dozen sponsors helped run the event and donate supplies. Inside the gym, dozens of vendor booths provided information about the upcoming school year, extracurriculars and ways parents can get involved.

“We want to make sure every student can start school with a backpack and with the resources they need,” said Holt Streeter, partnerships officer for Prince George’s County Public Schools.

For Patrick Lourim, 10, it was all about choosing the perfect book bag. He picked a gray backpack with one strap, something he had never seen before. His brother, DeMarco, 12, chose a dark green one. Each bag held basic supplies, including a notebook, a folder, pens and pencils.

“This is a really good way to help people who don’t have the money to buy supplies,” said their mom, Towannah Lourim of College Park. “They needed backpacks, so we knew we should come.”

Meltina Kargbo and her two daughters, 9-year-old Aamira and 8-year-old Azizah, came for backpacks but also to have some fun.

After picking out their packs — a teal-and-pink one for Azizah and a reddish-pink one for Aamira — the girls headed to the small dance floor and played with hula hoops and danced the “Cupid Shuffle.”

Kargbo, of Hyattsville, said the free supplies were a huge help.

“There are many parents, like us, who really need help,” she said. “This is a great event for us.”

Outside were food trucks, bouncy houses, a DJ, face painting and children’s games. In addition, the Oral Health Impact Project, an organization that provides dental care to school districts across the country, offered free vision exams inside a bus. Parents could also sign their children up for dental exams during the year.

During its first school year in Prince George’s, the project will visit every school and provide dental and vision screenings for students with insurance during school hours.

“It’s convenient for a lot of parents,” said program manager Rachel Duprey. “They don’t have to take off of work, and their kids can still get exams in school in the nurses office.”

While some students mourned the end of summer, Saturday’s party helped many others get excited for the upcoming year, hoping it will bring them new friends, new knowledge and new experiences.

Patrick said he can’t wait to get back to learning Chinese. Aamira, who said summer was boring, said she is ready to get back to learning. Amani Jones, 8, wants to learn to play an instrument, and as a third-grader at Glenarden Woods Elementary School, she will get to do that this year.

For 7-year-old Andre Hampton, it was all about recess. At the face-painting booth, Andre got the Batman logo on his left cheek and chatted about the new playground he’ll get to use this year.

“The one for the big kids,” he called it.

As families began heading home, they made their way through the blue and gold balloon arch that said “PGPS.” Students complimented each other’s bags, and parents wished each other luck for the start of the year, just two weeks away. They all had the same goodbye:

“Have a great year!”

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