Coming in from the pouring rain, it wasn’t hard for Isaiah Dunigan, 14, to choose a new school backpack from the 1,200 of widely varying types stacked on and under tables in the large conference room.
“It’s waterproof, it has a water cooler and it has a USB charger,” he said, shouldering the pack already filled with school supplies during the Central Council of the Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska’s annual backpack distribution at Elizabeth Peratrovich Hall on Saturday.
One of his four brothers, Michael, 2, was also wearing a new dinosaur-themed backpack (with a “built-in lunch bag”) about half his height — which was actually for another sibling Zackary, 5, who was unable to be there in person to pick out his pack. Their mother, Danielle, a lifelong Juneau resident, said the giveaways now in their 19th year have been an enormous blessing before the start of each school year.
“It really helps, especially when I’ve got all these kids to feed and especially with food prices going up so much,” she said. Plus “they go through clothes and shoes like no other.”
The backpacks are grouped by grade level and filled will age-appropriate supplies. For Isaiah Dunigan that included a large three-ring binder, writing paper and artistic pens; the pack carried by his younger brother included crayons and individual pads of paper.
The 1,200 backpacks at Saturday’s distribution are only half of the total distributed by Tlingit and Haida, said Dara Rilatos, who is coordinating the program for the first time this year. She said 1,200 more are being distributed to other communities throughout Southeast Alaska, with funding for the backpacks coming via a grant from Temporary Assistance for Needy Families.
Shopping online for the backpacks took weeks, Rilatos said.
“I picked out every one by hand,” she said. “I wanted there to be a lot more variety this year. So there’s only 25 of each style and color, so that in small towns — especially the villages — not every kid is going to have the same backpack.”
There was no fixed price limit for each backpack, so there was an emphasis on durability as well as age-appropriate appeal, Rilatos said.
“For the little kids it was more (about) fun,” she said. “But for the oldest kids we want something durable that would be good in our weather.”
Families in Juneau signed up for about 700 of the backpacks in advance, fewer than last year, but there appeared to be a lot of same-day registrations during the early portion of the distribution on Saturday, Rilatos said.
A late distribution of remaining backpacks for people who missed Saturday’s event is scheduled Aug. 29 at the Airport Shopping Center at 9131 Glacier Highway, Rilatos said.
• Contact Mark Sabbatini at email@example.com or (907) 957-2306.