ST. PETERSBURG - Scheduling physical examinations and vaccinations for four children before school starts can be a headache for parents such as Nashua Medina.
"Unless you schedule it maybe between May and June, you cannot get in until September or October," said Medina, whose children range in age from 2 to 14.
With school beginning in a few weeks, hundreds of families on Saturday packed the Enoch D. Davis Recreation Center on 18th Avenue South, where doctors and social workers helped children get everything from vaccinations to pens and pencils.
Organizers with the Junior League of St. Petersburg expected to hand out more than 2,000 free backpacks with notebooks, rulers and other school supplies after the kids got health, vision and dental exams. They even offered to help register the children for school.
"Everything was right here," Medina said.
In its 17th year, the Junior League's Care Fair serves as a one-stop shop for families who need help getting children ready for classes.
"We want every child to go back to school on that first day of school not worrying about, 'Do I have a backpack? Mom, do I have enough school supplies?'?" said league President Lisa Johni.
Scores of volunteers from groups such as the St. Pete Lions Club and the Black Nurses Association helped from 8 a.m. until well after noon.
They had to improvise at this year's event, which normally takes place at the Johnnie Ruth Clarke center on 22nd Street South. Physicians who come from All Children's Hospital have exam rooms at that location; at the recreation center, they met patients behind black curtains hung inside meeting rooms.
Johnnie Ruth Clarke is preparing for construction at its parking lot.
Dozens of agencies set up booths in the center's auditorium to help families needing clothing, child care and a host of other assistance.
This year, parents could get cholesterol screenings in addition to diabetes screenings while their kids got checkups.
Sylvia Williams, who brought her 11- and 13-year-old children to the fair, said she rarely sees a doctor.
"The screenings for adults is really important, because we don't go to the doctor like we should," she said.
The Junior League's mission is to help children get ready for school, and ensuring their whole family stays healthy is a critical part of that, Johni said.
"If you have a parent who has a health issue, that can be an economic drain on the family, if they can't go to work," Johni said.
"All that trickles down and affects that child. You need healthy parents and a healthy home for that kid to succeed."