Giving Back with STATE Bags at Dunlap Elementary School

By now, we’re all pretty familiar with the one-for-one giveback retail model. Shoppers purchase a certain brand of shoes or glasses for themselves, and then the company donates a like product to a person in need. It’s a great charitable strategy, one that can help guide consumers through overwhelming shopping choices and toward items that can have social impact beyond style.

STATE bag drop

STATE Bags not only embraces this model with its backpacks, but takes it a step further. Scot Tatelman and his wife, Jacqueline, began the company after witnessing New York City children carrying their school supplies in trash bags. For every STATE backpack purchased, one backpack is donated to an American child in a situation of need. These donations take place in person during school rallies (called bag drops) put on by the company. “We like to think we’re kind of amplifying that one-for-one model in the way we donate the bags,” says Scot Tatelman. “We don’t just show up to schools or homeless shelters or nonprofit organizations and just hand out backpacks, but we put on real high-energy motivational events for the kids that we serve.”

Nordstrom partnered with STATE Bags for an event this April. At Seattle’s Dunlap Elementary School, STATE and Nordstrom crews hand-delivered fully stocked STATE backpacks—packed with socks, snacks, sunscreen, headbands and notebooks—to all 375 students. But that wasn’t all.

STATE bag drop

STATE always brings an enthusiastic team that includes staff, a DJ and the people Scot calls his PackMen and PackWomen to these bag drops. (Scot refers to himself as the “GiveBackGuy” and his company’s bags as the “Give BackPack.”) They take over the school’s gymnasium for an hour and a half, engaging with the kids through activities and dance.

“It’s kind of like an educational workshop mixed with a rally, blended with a dance party,” Tatelman says. “The whole point of it is to get these kids feeling great, to get them inspired, to get them thinking about beating the odds that are often stacked against them. At the end it culminates in them getting a brand-new backpack that’s stuffed with donated supplies from like-minded generous companies.”

STATE bag drop

The PackMen and Women are the real catalysts who ignite these events. “They not only deliver backpacks but they deliver a real message,” Tatelman says. “All of our PackMen and Women have grown up in similar situations to these kids. They tell their stories of how they’ve successfully risen from challenging situations. When they talk you can hear a pin drop. They’re so good at what they do, because they’re child development specialists and people who work with kids day in and day out. It just so happens that they’re hilarious, they’re great dancers and great performers.”

Coach Roger (STATE PackMan Roger Redhead)

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Coach Roger, Mr. Joseph (a Dunlap teacher) and Coach Chelsea (STATE PackWoman Chelsea Greggs)

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Coach Chelsea

In addition to the PackMan and PackWoman on hand at Dunlap, one of the school’s teachers, Mr. Joseph, spoke to the crowd of kids gathered about what he carries in his own backpack and how it helped him get where he is today.

STATE bag drop

STATE Cofounder Scot Tatelman

STATE bag drop

Dunlap Elementary was carefully selected by Scot Tatelman through his usual vetting process of research and talking to school superintendents, principals and parent coordinators. “Dunlap was a school that I just landed on and thought was perfect,” says Tatelman. “They had the most kids in their school that are living in transitional housing—that gets me every time. That’s just so unfair that kids from very young ages are bounced around from place to place, the instability there is disheartening. Dunlap is also in the most diverse ZIP code, it has 87 percent on reduced lunch, it has the largest homeless population in the Seattle school district.”

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To date, STATE Bags has visited approximately 50 cities, serving tens of thousands of kids. This year they plan to give away 40,000 bags to children across the United States. “We’re approaching six figures in our donation efforts,” says Tatelman, “which we’re really proud about.”

STATE bag drop

Those bag drops have all been facilitated by STATE, but they’ve also involved some fairly powerful partnerships. “When we were a pretty young brand we partnered with Beyoncé’s #BeyGOOD charitable organization. We worked with her in donating bags all down the East Coast in really tough neighborhoods during back-to-school season,” Tatelman says. “Last year we worked with the White House and Roc Nation talent in donating bags across the U.S. in partnership with President Obama’s My Brother’s Keeper initiative. We connected with kids in 30 different cities that were linked with that really cool program that President Obama started. We’ve been really fortunate to work with some high-level people and brands, and now we can’t wait to say that we’ve worked with the Nordstrom team.”

STATE bag drop

And what is Scot’s favorite part about these bag drops, in which he personally participates? “I love seeing our team in action. We go so far beyond in how we execute. You can see every eye of these super impressionable kids staring at these role models, just hanging on every word. To me that’s the best,” Tatelman enthuses. “Our PackMen and Women end up signing autographs on the bags after these events.”

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DJ Fame

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“We’ve never left an event where someone hasn’t said to us, ‘That was the best assembly or event we’ve ever done for our kids.’ That’s because our approach is really different: we come with a DJ, we come with a team, we come to make the experience mind-blowing for the kids, and it always is,” says Tatelman.

STATE bag drops

But how is Tatelman sure that his message resonates with the kids long after the giveaways and high-octane talk? “Our message at the conclusion of every drop is that they’re not just wearing a backpack, but a ‘Give BackPack,’” Tatelman says. “So when they wear it they’re wearing the responsibility to better themselves and the community they live in. Our whole program is based on being the best you can be and trying to find that light wherever you can.”


—Britt Burritt