EAST ST. LOUIS — The atmosphere was like that of a big happy family reunion as more than 2,500 people gathered Saturday at the Lessie Bates building on State Street for free book bags, back to school supplies, health information, screenings, physicals and more.
By 9 a.m., a line stretched from the front door of the Lessie Bates building to the District 189 administration building next door.
There were all sorts of book bags available.
"We had different colors for boys and girls. We had different school supplies in the different bags based on the ages," said Bill Kreeb, executive director of Lessie Bates Neighborhood House.
The free event was hosted by Lessie Bates Neighborhood House and Catholic Urban Programs. Organizers had 1,000 book bags to give away to help East St. Louis schoolchildren get ready for their first day back to school, which is Sept. 3.
When they ran out, they started taking names and promised the people who did not get book bags that they would be purchasing more.
The YMCA brought in a climbing wall, the Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity donated food, and the Craig Shields Foundation provided haircuts.
Most people know Shields by his radio name "Craig Black." He said getting a good education is so important and when a child looks good, it helps build his or her self-esteem.
Janyla Hicks, 11, a student at Dunbar Elementary, won one of the five bicycles that were raffled off. As she sat on her bicycle and pedaled away from the spot where she was handed the bike, a huge grin spread across her face.
She was proud of her shiny maroon and black bike.
"I am going to ride it until school starts," she said. Janyla said she was ready to return to school because "she misses her friends and teachers."
Abdule Campbell, 8, and Mekhi Campbell, 7, attend Dunbar Elementary they said their haircuts were "cool."
Abdule said he likes math and can't wait for school to start. His brother said his favorite subject is math, too, and they will help another student who needs their help.
Their mom, Renesha Miller, 25, said she is happy not to have to worry about school supplies and haircuts. "It's a blessing what they are doing for the community."