The line was so long one would have thought free ice cream waited at its end.
School supplies, instead, were the attraction Saturday as thousands waited in the morning heat outside the Urban League of Greater Oklahoma City complex for the nonprofit's annual Back to School Bash.
Backpacks full of donated crayons, notebooks, scissors and other supplies were piled in a pyramid inside the door. Volunteer barbers shaved summertime mops off the heads of the city's elementary students. Around the corner, more volunteers checked the vision and teeth of the youngsters one at a time, providing immunizations to those who needed them.
The event is a free service the Urban League has been coordinating for five years to put the city's neediest schoolchildren on the same footing as their well-to-do peers when the school bell rings next month, said Gayle Berry, the organization's associate vice president of communications.
More than 2,000 backpacks of supplies were handed out Saturday, Berry said. That's 500 more than last year, she said.
“Our goal is to help them have a good start to the school year and to help parents to get what they need,” she said. “Our goal is also to connect people with the resources of the community, whatever they need.”
Families lined up starting at 5:30 a.m., though doors didn't open until three hours later. By 10 a.m., the line was so long many had to be turned away.
Berry said the tenacity of parents and grandparents to get school supplies despite the early hours and long lines demonstrates the seriousness of poverty in Oklahoma City. About 10 percent of the city's population lives in poverty, she said, and that number doubles for the black population.
“You've got people with two, three, four kids — they've also got to get haircuts, and they can't always afford to take them to the doctor to get checkups,” she said.