Free backpacks coming to East Side school kids

An estimated 2,500 people showed up at last year’s backpack giveaway. (submitted photo)

Volunteers hope to give away 1,500

For the third year in a row, Alfreda Flowers and her organization Family Values for Life will be giving out new backpacks and school supplies to East Side school kids, just days before school starts.

The event started fairly small -- they collected and handed out 150 backpacks the first year. But over 500 people showed, so they ran out of supplies. In the second year, they gathered up over 1,000 backpacks, but again, they were short -- Flowers estimated 2,500 people showed.

This year, they’re hoping to again up the ante, aiming for a goal of 1,500 backpacks. Flowers gathered up tons of volunteers and supporting businesses to collect school supplies and financial backing.

Contributing groups include the St. Paul Public Schools Foundation, Sunrise Bank, Ramsey County, the Salvation Army, several East Side churches, the East Metro YMCA, and the East Side Family Center, to name a few.

Flowers and company will be at the Wilder Recreation Center on Wednesday, Aug. 28, from 4:30 until 7:30 p.m. The rec center is located at 958 Jessie St. in St. Paul.

“We’ve had so many negative things going on (on the East Side),” said Flowers. She sees the giveaway as “something very positive for the East Side.”

Connecting with resources

Flowers’ project is not as simple as just collecting donated supplies and doling them out -- rather, the kids have to show up with their parents and connect with community resources.

The families fill out a “passport,” visiting 10 different information tables before then being given the school supplies.

The tables will be set up to inform families about resources pertaining to school registration, school lunch programs, after-school activities for kids, and housing programs, and more.

Flowers worked for St. Paul Public Schools for 10 years. The mother of eight has also been a licensed daycare provider, so she’s no stranger to the difficulties of child rearing.

Working in those fields, “the lack of resources, the lack of things that families need... was very, very real,” she said. “I’ve watched families without the proper school supplies, without the proper clothing to wear.”

The backpack program has been “an opportunity to bring families together and offer all the resources that it takes,” she said.

Heather Kilgore, family engagement coordinator for St. Paul Public Schools, said the district supports Flowers’ event “because it’s an opportunity for families to access both the tangible resources ... and also the supportive services in a whole variety of venues.”

St. Paul schools will have a table where parents can ask questions about everything from enrollment to college readiness.

“It’s just a neat opportunity for us to connect families with what they need,” Kilgore said.

Anne DeJoy, director of commercial development at the East Side Neighborhood Organization, said Flowers’ organization was easy to get behind.

“Alfreda is a really effective community organizer,” she said. “She’s very sincere; she’s very credible. People like to donate to her.”

Flowers said that focusing on the East Side was an obvious choice -- 96 percent of East Side children attending public schools are eligible for free or reduced-cost lunch programs, she said.

“You just have a lot of poverty.”

After retiring from over 40 years working with families, “it’s a time now to really give back to some of the life experience I’ve had,” she said.

In addition to free school supplies and information tables, the event will feature free haircuts, free food and a variety of games and other activities.

For more information about the event or how to donate supplies, contact Family Values for Life at or 651-774-0344x30.

Contact Patrick Larkin at 651-748-7816 or at

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