Back to School Community Rally draws hundreds

SOUTH BEND, Ind. - School districts across Michiana face uncertain starts to the upcoming school year, but it's not a matter of if there will be school. It's how there will be school. With that in mind, community leaders from South Bend and Mishawaka put together a Back to School Community Rally Saturday at Howard Park in South Bend.

Community members came through the rally to get backpacks, facemasks, haircuts and hand sanitizer. Among the organizers was Notre Dame Head Women's Basketball Coach Niele Ivey who may have been more excited than most because it was her first time interacting with the South Bend community since taking the Notre Dame job.

"Even with the weather, it was such a great success," Ivey said. "I saw so many families that came out to support. Some of our players came out. All of our sponsors, the vendors were here. It was a great time. There was food, music. We just had a lot of fun. So, I was really really happy with the turnout."

The uncertainty about the start of the upcoming school year left the pandemic on many people's minds.

"Wear a mask, stay distant as much as we can and make sure we can get these numbers down so we can get our kids can get back to school," said South Bend Mayor James Mueller. "Unfortunately, looking at where we are in terms of cases, our schools aren't going to be able to open to students at the beginning of the year. So, we need to do our part to get our schools open as soon as possible safely."

South Bend Community School Corporation is expected to announce its plan for the upcoming school year on Monday, but primary organizer Councilwoman Sharon McBride felt the upcoming school year would be a good way to unite the community.

"I met with Coach Niele Ivey of Notre Dame two weeks ago for lunch, and this birthed this community rally," McBride said. "We wanted to come together and bring the community together no matter what color, no matter what age, no matter what religion, no matter what party you're in. Everybody could come out together from Mishawaka Schools to South Bend School Corporation. Come to get backpacks, get out of the house, practice social distancing, but still have a good time."

McBride said she and the other organizers prepared to hand out 5,000 backpacks, and by 1:00 Saturday afternoon, they had handed out more than 1,200. Among the vendors were South Bend City leaders like the Common Council and the mayor's office as well as Beacon Health and a local barber who gave out 25 free haircuts.

"We came to get our hair cut, my sister's haircut," said SBCSC Senior to be Talor Agnew. "This is a great event that they're throwing at the Howard Park. They've got plenty of booths up, hot dogs, chips. Come out. Come have fun."

Organizers said, in total, anywhere from 500 to 1,000 people came through Howard Park for the rally.

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