What’s in a Backpack? How a simple item can provide tools for success and unlock potential for the future


Union Home Mortgage and the UHM Foundation’s annual Partner Backpack Project returns later this month. Learn why this initiative is so important and how a backpack can set the tone for an entire school year.

Written by: Christina Fagan

Do you remember that special time of summer when you were young? This was a time when you still had days of freedom but were building excitement for the new school year to begin. For most of us, an important element of those final days was getting a list from school and venturing out; for annual back to school supply shopping. Maybe you picked out folders that showcased your favorite hobbies, television shows or eclectic designs. Maybe you decided to color code everything to match, or simply stuck with the basics. Whatever the case, your mission was to make sure EVERYTHING was checked off your list so that on Day 1 of school – you would be ready and have everything you need at your fingertips.  

Unfortunately, this isn’t a memory that every child has.

According to the National Retail Federation, K-12 families will spend, on average, roughly $696.70 on school supplies (including clothing, electronics, shoes and supplies).1 Couple that with the fact that 4 in 10 children in the United States live in a household struggling to meet basic expenses.2 What do you think these families choose when faced with a decision between putting food on the table and purchasing school supplies? This, unfortunately, means many children return to school without these items…but why is that important?

Can you imagine starting your school year sitting amongst your peers without these ordinary tools that others have around you? It might knock back your confidence and make you feel like you are starting the year already behind your classmates. This is certainly not the ideal tone we want children in our communities to have on Day 1, especially when, take for example, “42% of all children in Cuyahoga County enrolling in kindergarten are not adequately prepared to succeed,” according to an assessment of the state of literacy in Cuyahoga County done by The Literacy Cooperative.3

At the Union Home Mortgage Foundation, we believe that education is a key building block towards a future of self-sufficiency for individuals and families in our communities. We know that studies upon studies show that low literacy, especially, directly affects unemployment, general health and wellness, lifetime earning potential, and can even impact the next generation’s literacy rates – and this starts early.

For the past several years, the Union Home Mortgage Foundation has partnered up with our parent company, Union Home Mortgage, to start a nationwide back-to-school supply campaign dubbed the Partner Backpack Project. Branch locations across the United States participate by serving as “drop off locations” for local collections benefitting area nonprofits or schools. Last year, we were able to collect and fill over 1,000 backpacks to distribute to underserved children. This year, close to 60 branches are participating from July 26 – August 9, helping over 40 different nonprofits…and local engagement can get pretty creative.

In Northeast Ohio, for example, our corporate headquarters is partnering with Volunteers of America Ohio & Indiana (in fact, we are the presenting sponsor of their statewide Operation Backpack campaign) to specifically collect backpacks for the local Veteran Resource Center. After the drive is complete, our partners (what we call employees at UHM) come together to stuff each bag and write a note of encouragement for the child receiving the backpack. Then, our partners get a chance to volunteer for a closed distribution event, and actually see the direct impact of their donations.

Last year, in Frisco, Texas, local partners created a “Breakfast and Backpacks” event where they offered to buy a coffee for anyone that stopped into their event and donated school supplies – they were able to collect over 50 backpacks at this event!

Whatever the case, whatever the method, this initiative has become a tradition at UHM that’s more than filling backpacks with folders and pencils…but also about packing potential and confidence for each child that receives it.

If you’d like to learn more about this initiative or contribute to a local participating branch, please visit our event website here.


  1. National Retail Federation. “Record spending expected for school and college supplies.” 2019 July 15.
  2. Center for American Progress. “The Basic Facts About Children in Poverty,” by Areeba Haider. 2021 January 12.
  3. The Literacy Cooperative. “Cuyahoga County’s Literacy Crisis.”