They stopped counting at 100 -- 100 drug needles picked up off the playground.
That was last year, when residents of southwest Baltimore cleaned up a neglected playground in Carrollton Ridge and put on a festival for children.
This year, needles again litter the lot as residents prepare for their second children's festival Sunday.
Michael Keeney, president of the Carrollton Ridge Community Association, and other organizers of the festival say the community must provide positive activities for children because the lure of destructive influences is so great.
Drugs, especially, are consuming young people. And children and teen-agers run in packs throughout the community all night, Keeney says.
When he gets up early to go hunting or fishing and sees 8- and 9-year-olds on the street at 4 a.m, Keeney asks himself: "Where are the parents?"
Sunday's festival, a one-day event of rides, music and food, will not answer that question or rein in unsupervised children.
But it may provide a happy memory, or a spurt of self-esteem for a neglected child, Keeney says.
"Maybe that happy memory will make a difference in the future," Keeney says.
Community leaders plan on raising $30,000 after the festival to turn the littered lot into a permanent playground.
That will not cure social ills either, but a supervised, maintained playground will, at least, be a safe harbor for children, Keeney says.
The lot is in the 1900 block of McHenry St. at Goldsmith Alley -- half a block west of Monroe Street.
It is a block of rowhouses and a few vacant, boarded-up buildings. Broken glass litters the gutters.
The city owns the lot. A high chain-link fence surrounds it. The gate is locked.
When residents from area community groups descended on the lot last summer to prepare it for the festival, the grass was waist-high.
A city crew hacked down the grass, and then city workers and residents picked out discarded drug needles.
Keeney says they stopped counting at 100, but there were probably 300 or 400 in all.
Drug users had apparently tossed the needles into the lot; the fence was secure. But this week, when a half-dozen residents gathered to discuss the festival, they found a hole in the fence and more needles in the grass.
A city crew was due out today to clean it again, and Sunday morning, before the festival begins at 10, residents will scour the lot in search of needles discarded tonight and tomorrow.
Groups sponsoring the festival are the Carrollton Ridge Community Association; West Pratt Street Merchants Association; COIL (Communities Organized to Improve Life); and the Frederick, Fulton, Lombard, Monroe Community Association.
Jim "Champ" Maxwell, of HERO (Health Education Resources Organization), helped launch the inaugural festival last year.
Erwin Rubin, vice president of the West Pratt Street Merchants Association, says he asked the city to provide booths and stages and to pay for an anti-drug rap group.
But the city, according to Rubin, said its booths and stages weren't available and it couldn't afford the $400 for the rap group.
So the organizers solicited donations and say they received generous ones from Bon Secours Hospital; Baltimore Gas and Electric Co.; Del. Paul E. Weisengoff, D-City; the council members from the 6th District, Joseph J. DiBlasi, Timothy D. Murphy and Edward L. Reisinger; and local merchants, especially the Sea Pride crab house and Pratt Discount Home Furnishings.