After the death of her husband, Alfreda Flowers knew the only way she would get through widowhood was to give back to the East Side community he had so lovingly embraced.
Kids going back to school need haircuts, so she’s lined up 10 barbers who will cut hair for free.
They need backpacks, so she’s working on getting 2,100 together, though her true goal is 2,500.
And kids need school supplies. Lord willing, each backpack will be full of pens, pencils, notebooks and more by the time her annual give-away rolls around on Sept. 2.
“Many times, families give up hope, because they run into so many dead ends,” said Flowers, a mother of eight, a grandmother of 11 and former University of St. Thomas program manager.
“I went through a time of brokenness when I lost by husband of 35 years,” said Flowers, who started her backpack event five years ago. “I had to go through the physical, the emotional, the spiritual and the financial healing — even learning how to eat well.”
All of those values are now embodied in her one-woman organization, Family Values for Life, which is still accepting donations. The nonprofit will give away free haircuts and school supplies from 4:30 to 7:30 p.m. on Sept. 2 at the Bruce Vento Elementary School, 409 E. Case Ave., which is hosting an open house for parents at the same time.
The event is open to kids from across the city, but there’s one catch. To qualify for the free backpacks, school supplies and haircuts, families will have to complete brief check-ins at a series of 10 community booths, each manned by a St. Paul Public Schools organization or a community partner.
The goal is to get kids ready for the schoolyear by making sure their families have the supports they need. The organizations include East Side Thrive, Merrick Community Center, the Community Action Partnership of Ramsey and Washington Counties, Thrivent Financial and others.
Families line up to receive free backpacks for school kids at Alfreda Flowers’ Family Values for Life giveaway in 2014. Families first had families will have to complete brief check-ins with 10 community groups, at the event at Bruce Vento Elementary School playground. (Photo courtesy of Family Values for Life)
Last year, the line for free haircuts was overwhelming, even with a series of barbers lined up. Kids who don’t get a cut may still walk away with a gift card from the St. Paul International Barber School on Payne Avenue.
Major donors have included Target Corp., Cricket Wireless, Costco, St. Paul Public Schools, Enterprise Rent-A-Car, and the Salvation Army, among others.
Flowers said her husband John, a Northwest Airlines mechanic who died in 2005, loved mentoring young people in the neighborhood and would have been pleased with the event, which distributed 125 backpacks in its first year. That number grew many times over last year to 2,100 backpacks. She’s hoping to at least meet, if not exceed, that number.
She’s still collecting donations online at familyvaluesforlife.org, or through material donations at the First Covenant Church, 1280 Arcade St.
“We’re still down a little bit in school supplies,” Flowers said. “We’re really open to that.”
Frederick Melo can be reached at 651-228-2172. Follow him at twitter.com/FrederickMelo.
IF YOU GO:
WHAT: Backpack give-away with school supplies, free haircuts
WHEN: 4:30 to 7:30 p.m. on Sept. 2
WHERE: Bruce Vento Elementary School, 409 E. Case Ave.