AUGUSTA — Kelly Smith has just returned to the workforce after a few months without an income, so the prospect of buying back-to-school gear for her children in between getting caught up on bills was more than a little daunting.

“It’s been hard to get supplies for school,” Smith said, “especially since there are two in school now.”

Smith needed a helping hand, and she and a couple hundred other people found it Saturday in the basement of Kennebec Community Church, where tables were loaded with free clothes, and brand-new backpacks full of school supplies were stacked up neatly, waiting to be given away.

“We’re a church trying to make a difference in an important and struggling community,” said the Rev. Dan Coleman, lead pastor for the church on St. Andrews Way. “This is our city and we’re trying to meet any need we can.”

The need is both spiritual and physical, Coleman said. The church strives to meet both. The reminders of that mission were everywhere Saturday on the green shirts worn by many volunteers who claimed they were there to love Jesus, love others and help others love Jesus.

“We can give back,” Coleman said.

Smith, whose children will enter first and third grades, has been to a few giveaways. The timing of Saturday’s was particularly appropriate.

“It’s absolutely great,” she said. “My daughter is in between sizes. Finding her clothes for school is hard, but here we can get her enough to last pretty much the whole school year.”

Smith, who had signed up to receive backpacks, also found books and shoes for her children and was looking for clothes she could wear to work.

“It’s good stuff,” she said.

Trisha Hawk, of Vassalboro, started attending the church after her children, ages 4 and 6, attended one of the church’s free soccer camps.

“I was amazed about what they did,” Hawk said. “I started going to church.”

Hawk, a single mother who is out of work and facing the prospect of homelessness, said the clothing and backpack programs would fill a sizable portion of her children’s back-to-school needs. Family help and hand-me-downs will fill the remaining gaps.

“It’s a big help,” she said.

The church holds the clothing giveaways a few times a year. The next one is not scheduled but will take place in the fall. The late-summer offering is held to coincide with the backpack giveaway, said Sonya Houle, a church member and support staff member. The church gave away about 200 of the backpacks and supplies to families who responded to online invitations. All of the backpacks, and the age-appropriate school supplies, are new and purchased by church members.

“It’s pretty costly, but we believe in it,” Houle said.

Most of the clothes came from a local consignment store that donates items that have remained on the shelves a few months.

“They’re consignment quality clothes,” Houle said.

Clothing left over after Saturday’s giveaway will be donated to Addie’s Attic clothing bank at St. Mark’s Episcopal Church on Summer Street.

“That way every time someone comes, there are different clothes here,” Houle said.

Coleman said an increasing number of people are turning to the church for help. His members are eager to respond.

“There are more and more people every year who are struggling,” Coleman said. “Our people just respond like crazy.”

Craig Crosby — 621-5642

[email protected]

Twitter: @CraigCrosby4

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