© 2011 Idaho Press-Tribune

NAMPA — Volunteers handed out nearly 2,000 free backpacks filled with school supplies for homeless children Wednesday in downtown Nampa.

About 1,000 Nampa School District students were identified as homeless during the last school year, according to district spokeswoman Allison Westfall. In addition, 64 percent of students were eligible for free or reduced lunch — an indication of widespread poverty.

For many of those students, the traditional back-to-school shopping trip isn’t an option, Westfall explained.

“Thanks to the donations, they’re just like other kids. They can have that new backpack and other supplies even if they come from a situation where they don’t have that support,” she said.

Children identified as homeless often live “doubled up” with relatives or family friends; others live in shelters or other temporary housing. School provides needed stability with the structure of classes and warm meals, and providing school supplies adds to that stability, Westfall said.

Almost 50 volunteers — including high school and middle school students from Nampa, Caldwell and Meridian — helped distribute the backpacks, which were filled with snacks, books and hygiene kits.

Students from both Nampa and Vallivue school districts received the school supplies.

The international Christian organization Feed the Children provided the supplies.

Nampa was the only Idaho city selected for the organization’s campaign, which will donate 150,000 backpacks nationally over the school year, according to public relations manager Mark Opgrande. The organization spends about $20 per supply-filled backpack, although the packs would cost about $50 retail. Corporate sponsors help cut costs, Opgrande said.

Last year, the organization supplied about half as many backpacks and school supplies to Nampa, he added.

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