Categories: Giveaways

Back to School Gifts of Hope Raffle Brings Help and Builds Community

Gifts of Hope supports community members in need by connecting them with services, organizing supply giveaways, offering job training and educational workshops, and more. Earlier this year, Gifts of Hope received a Small Sparks grant from the Neighborhood Matching Fund to support its Back to School Community Raffle.

We recently caught up with founder and CEO Samona Burleson to see how this funding helps them serve the community. Watch highlights from that interview below:

Can you tell us a little about Gifts of Hope and your mission?

Gifts of Hope began in 2015. Our mission is to make a difference in the community by connecting youth and families to resources and services they would not normally have access to. Our goal is to uplift and empower the community, and most of the communities we serve are members of BIPOC. It’s as simple as talking to people, getting to know their needs and helping them! If we can’t help, we refer them to other organizations that can. Next, we offer case management. We check in and follow up to make sure they’ve received support. At Gifts of Hope we treat every customer like a family member. We don’t judge them. We don’t look down on anyone. We always treat them like a king or queen when they are in our presence. When people attend our events, they are welcomed with open and welcoming arms.

How do you connect with people and build community relationships?

When we first started, we went door to door and just talked to people. This helped us discover their needs and determine what we could do to help. Then, inviting them to events. Our events are a way to bring needed resources closer to people and are also another opportunity to interact with people and talk more about what they need in the community, what their past needs were and how we can help. All our events are free and we work to meet people wherever they are. It’s important to start on the same level, so that people don’t feel judged, feel confident in what they’re saying, and know that someone is there to help them. When we go out to certain neighborhoods, we take translators so we can communicate authentically with people. There is a woman we work with who is Somali and does not speak English well. Their children, who do speak English, contacted me to let me know they needed help with certain things. So I got a translator to come with me to talk to her so I could understand what she needed and offer her that help. She didn’t get help because she couldn’t speak English and didn’t know where to turn for help.

It all comes down to making people feel comfortable, and I feel like the community, especially the South End community, feels comfortable because we hear from them, and that communication has grown over the years.

How does your Neighborhood Equalization Fund grant help you serve the community and advance your mission?

This grant is used for our Back to School Community Raffle on August 21st, which helps families who need a little help with back to school supplies and backpacks. It’s a great community event for people to come out and get assistance, but also just to mingle and meet people who live in and around the neighborhood. When we started this event five years ago, it was with just 12 kids. Last year we had 1,500 people show up! The MNF grant has given me the ability to add much more to the event. For example, providing food and entertainment to families who leave. Some of our families are in tiny houses, some in tent cities, and some in low-income housing. Being able to provide food for everyone, activities for the kids, and having a DJ there playing music are all attractions that draw people to the event and make our community feel special.

Thanks to this grant, I can also pay to bring the Buffalo Soldiers to the event. So many children do not know who the Buffalo Soldiers are and are not taught this history in school. They will have a meet and greet with the children in their uniforms, talk about their role in history and offer free horse rides. We are so grateful for these opportunities to introduce kids to new things and give them an experience they might not have without this event.

Why is an event like this so important to so many people?

An event like this is important because there are many people who may be struggling financially and back to school is a time that can be very stressful for parents and students. There are also people who are embarrassed because they can’t afford to get their kids school clothes or they don’t have enough to buy back-to-school supplies. This is especially true for high school students. Our goal with this event is to relieve stress by providing assistance and letting them know that we are here to support them and that they are not alone in this walk. It really takes a village to raise a child and we want to be that village. We want to walk with them and support them.

On August 21st from 12-5pm at the Smilow Rainier Vista Boys & Girls Club (4520 Martin Luther King Jr Way S), you can attend the Gifts of Hope Community Back to School Raffle .

For more information about Gifts of Hope and this event, visit:


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