Journal of Housing & Community Development

Backpack Giveaway In Boise City/Ada County

March 4, 2021
by Libby Miller

The Boise City/Ada County Housing Authorities won a 2020 Award of Excellence in Resident and Client Services for their Annual Backpack Giveaway which provided low-income families with school supplies for the upcoming academic year. Nominated from among the National Association of Housing and Redevelopment Officials Award of Merit winners each year, the Awards of Excellence winners are chosen by national juries and honored at the annual National Conference and Exhibition in November. They represent the very best in innovative programs in assisted housing and community development. 

Executive Director Deanna Watson, who’s led BC/ACHA for more than 20 years, was giving a talk one summer at the Southminster Presbyterian Church in Boise, Idaho when she noticed at the church’s end of the season celebration families were gathering to collect materials donated from local stores. What took Watson by surprise was watching the young kids get excited over the prospect of new color pencils, backpacks and other school supplies.  

“It struck me that these kids wanted to fit in with their peers on that first day of school,” Watson said. This led to a partnership between BC/ACHA and the church to launch the annual backpack giveaway program. The church organized the donations, asking people and businesses to donate backpacks each filled with brand new school supplies, and the housing authority distributed them to students in grades kindergarten through 6th grade.  

In its first year, the backpack program was able to serve about 65 children. In 2020, they were able to serve about 500 children who are residents of the housing authorities and attend local Boise schools.   

Each backpack is tailored to meet the needs of the grade the students are entering. The list of items is based on a school supply list from the school district, so parents can be assured their child has the age-appropriate supplies needed for the classroom. Since BC/ACHA and its partners are providing the children with backpacks and supplies, families can spend money on other items such as new back-to-school clothes.   

Watson said families often write thank you notes to express gratitude for the donations from the church and community. She said since they’ve been hosting the program for so many years there are some kids who’ve been able to get a brand-new backpack every year for their entire elementary experience.  

Housing Programs Director Jillian Patterson said what makes the program successful is it can easily be replicated. She said typically housing authorities and agencies must deal with regulations, applications and “red tape” when applying for grant programs that offer similar kinds of donations.  

“This program is truly well put together working with the chruch there is no administrative burden to our agency,” Patterson said. “We do not have to deal with the paperwork. We are just putting backpacks in the hands of the kids that need them.”  

Many of the kids who receive backpacks come from low-income, single parent households.  

“I have seen the kids receiving their backpacks and their faces light up over excitement not knowing what is in their backpack,” Patterson said. “You can see how happy it makes them and you can just tell it makes their day.”  

This year, the program held even more significance as school life was largely disrupted by the coronavirus pandemic. Patterson said despite the challenges from the health crisis, the church was able to still collect hundreds of donations and kids were given their backpacks at a distribution center in a local parking lot.  

“A lot of kids were disappointed to not go to school so to have something for them to get excited about, it helped create that school atmosphere,” Patterson said. “It was one more positive thing.”  

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Volume 78, Issue 1

January / February 2021

The Los Angeles County Development Authority won a 2020 Award of Excellence in Resident and Client Services for their summer program providing youth residing in public housing with a hands-on experience…