Six-year-old Milsarid Rodriguez sat with her head in her hands. Not crying, not yet.
But soon, Milsarid's wails rang out of the small room at the Hillsborough Community College SouthShore campus in Ruskin after a nurse gave her two shots needed before starting second grade.
When it was over, Milsarid's 5-year-old brother Ricardo clapped his hands. Milsarid didn't exactly smile, but at least the crying stopped.
The Rodriguez kids were two of hundreds who came to the county's back-to-school fair Saturday in Ruskin. The effort, organized by the Back-to-School Coalition of Hillsborough County, includes members of the county's Health and Social Services departments, local chambers of commerce, volunteer organization and faith-based groups.
In addition to immunizations, students received physicals, dental screenings, free backpacks, school supplies, shoes, socks and underwear.
Eris Williams, 27, who brought her 5-year-old daughter, Leila Steelman, for a checkup, said she was grateful for the free services.
Williams' other daughter, 3-month-old Lisa, has been in intensive care for blocked bowels since birth. Williams' husband, who works in construction, struggles to find work in the slumped housing market.
The family, from Melbourne, is staying at the Ronald McDonald House near St. Joseph's Hospital. In a couple of weeks, Leila will start kindergarten at the nearby Gorrie Elementary.
"This is really, really nice," Williams said of the fair. "I know it helps a lot of people."
• • •
At the shoe-and-sock giveaway station, 12-year-old Jonathan Wenzel showed off his new camouflage-patterned backpack. He picked that design in honor of his 3-year-old brother, Cameron, whose nickname is Camo.
"He's having a great day," said his mom, Lori Wenzel.
Wenzel said it was a relief not to worry about buying school supplies. "Especially the way income is, nowadays," she said.
She said her husband, John, works as a foreman for a commercial refrigeration company, and she stays at home with Cameron to save on day care.
Jonathan Wenzel only needed one shot, but "he was pretty brave," his mom said.
"It was horrible!" disputed Jonathan.
At least one kid didn't seem bothered by the shots. Five-year-old Daniel Exiga, who is about to start kindergarten, gave his mom, Maria Exiga, a toothy smile as she marched him over to the immunization station.
Was he scared? "No," he grinned. He bounced in his chair as a nurse filled up her syringe. His mom put her arm around him. He kept smiling.
Then came the prick. And the wince. And the tears.
"Awww, it's okay. It's over," Maria Exiga told little Daniel.
He looked at his arm, back at his mom, and went right back to smiling.
Kim Wilmath can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 661-2442.