Launching our Local Org Spotlight! 

We are officially rolling out a new series on spotlighting local organizations and activists.  Our first feature is on the Backpack Brigade.


This week we’re taking the shift in a different direction with geography. Instead of starting with a place and somebody telling a story related to that place we’re taking a look at the whole landscape of Seattle.

We are spotlighting the Backpack Brigade, a local nonprofit that works to solve local hunger crisis for children in Seattle that are homeless or in transitional housing situations. The Backpack Brigade started in one school and now serves 23 in the entire Seattle School District. There are only 8 schools not served. Funding for Backpack Brigade comes from the McKinney-Vento Act, a federal law that provides funding to homeless shelters and programs, including homeless children. The org takes a pervasive approach to addressing the homeless issue; geographic boundaries are simply a corollary of the objective to solve homeless youth hunger in Seattle. The topic of youth hunger is highly misunderstood as well…

Let’s start by looking at a map of the Backpack Brigade’s service:

Backpack Brigade AllSchoolsMap

This map shows every single school in Seattle and how they are served by Backpack Brigade. Included is temporary annex locations, closed down, demolished, and more. The distribution of who is served is already determined by each school’s boundary. (There’s politics there, but we’re not getting into that today…) 3 other school districts have attempted to utilize Backpack Brigade as a resource.

Backpack Brigade works in a cooperative manner with 9 of other hunger-solving organizations. Nichelle Hilton, Executive Director and CEO of Backpack Brigade, walked me through the process of how the org was founded. Initially a “Food For Schools” project was operating in Seattle School District doing weekend hunger drives. Then a “Backpack Summit” was held to discuss how to target the local youth hunger and homeless crisis. The number of homeless children has more than tripled in Seattle in the last 4 years.

The organization puts together over 800 bags of food every week for children that are homeless, displaced, or in transitional housing. An average school year is 38 weeks so 800 x 38 = 30,400 bags for one year. “We’re so close to providing all of this to Seattle schools”. Need about $200,000 to $250,000 per year to operate.


Each bag contains 7 meals, 13 items: 3 dinners, 2 lunches, 2 breakfasts, 2 drinks, 2 pieces of fruit, 2 snacks, and a Hershey’s kiss 🙂  Bags are separately created for Cook and Non-Cook kids. Cook meals mean the child has access to a stove, pot, and can opener.

Determining who is served comes from each school’s family support worker and Fare Reduced Lunch program numbers. Monthly check-ins happen with the worker and numbers of kids on the Fare Reduced Lunch program.


Donations are widely needed. Online ordering isn’t possible because of the volume needed. Money donations will help the most at this point. What started as an operation running in the courtyard of the YWCA is now operating in a warehouse space in SODO/International District. There’s sorting, packing, and delivering – all positions can help!!

When Nichelle discusses getting funding for this program, she discusses the politics of getting involved with City Council members, City of Seattle public servants, and the politics that is often at play…as much as they’d like to help a noble cause there are different purposes being served by essentially “lobbyists”. People who have funded each public servant’s cause, what that funder’s motives are become some elected officials’ priorities. [money talks].  In my opinion this is where being an organization is more ideal; serving the true purpose(s) you’re passionate about.

It’s such a simple problem to solve yet we can’t get funding. However there are millions found for public murals and “cleanup”, tax breaks and incentives to bring businesses and developments to the city.


Can we tie this back to geography? While this isn’t quite done with a geographic issue, this is a layer of our map to Seattle that needs to be seen and understand. There are geographic problems on a magnitude sorts of scales. Looking at the Urban Landscape there are micro and macro lenses. I look at individual stories tied to a distinct boundary, landmark, location, neighborhood. THIS is something that’s attacking an issue on the larger front in the entire of city’s Seattle School District.

There are a lot of stories that are at bigger scales! Individualistic is not [always] enough. Macro is not enough. This is a serious problem that is not getting enough attention. Is that because the problem is too big, or too small??

I would argue that the stories that I’m sharing are overlooked because they’re too small. But here I’m presenting a problem on the massive scale, an entire city, and it’s also not being taken care of by our city. What’s the answer???

Nichelle shares some of her feelings about this passion project. When it comes to the issue of childhood homelessness “this is a hugely misunderstood subject”. People are always saying things like “This is the parents’ responsibility; why are the parents not responsible?” It’s not always the case that the parents don’t care, it’s actually more problems with transitional housing, or drugs—real problems, or they are working [to get out of dire situations] and they just can’t be there.

These problems require depth, and care, and compassion in order to understand and solve the problem. We can’t just give this blanket statement//these sweeping statements; assuming that a person/parent will always be in a “good” situation and can “properly” parent, i.e. be home to care and watch over and provide for a child…assuming this is the case is problematic. As exemplified with the problems Backpack Brigade is addressing. Let’s get into the nitty gritty details of that.

Want to Help? Are you free Friday mornings? 10am-12pm we need delivery drivers. If you have access to a car and are free during these times, come help us just deliver crates of food to a local school!.
On May 17th there’s a fundraising event happening at Homestreet Bank from 4 to 6 pm. Come donate your time, helping hands, and enjoy a raffle, food and drink, speaker.

$266. Think about this for a minute: $226 is all it takes to feed one child for an entire school year through the backpack brigade. For ~38 weeks a child gets a bag of food filled with 7 meals, which each cost $1. Each bag contains 3 dinners, 2 lunches, 2 breakfasts, 2 drinks, 2 pieces of fruit, 2 snacks, and 1 Hershey kiss of course. What have you spent $266 on recently?


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