AUGUSTA — The local Elks Lodge was expecting to receive about 150 families when it opened its doors Saturday morning to hand out backpacks, notebooks, pencils and other school supplies, but around double that number showed up for the giveaway. Within 45 minutes of the event starting, some types of supplies had already been swept up.

“The turnout has been unbelievable,” said Mike Michaud, exalted ruler of the Augusta Elks Lodge. “We knew there was a need for this in the community. We didn’t realize how much of a need, and what the families need to get kids back to school. … We’re already running out of stuff.”

Among the supplies that ran out early were backpacks, binders, looseleaf paper, dividers and markers. Besides school supplies, other donations included clothes, pizza, haircuts from a local barber, snack packs from the Maine Chapter of American Mothers and sports supplies that were raffled.

Families who came to the giveaway formed a line outside the main entrance to the Elks Lodge, stretching all the way to a baseball field at the back end of the property, and several said they were grateful for the outreach.

Tyler Dumas, 14, of Augusta, will soon enter the eighth grade at Cony Middle School and said the supplies would help in all his classes — especially his favorite subject, science.

“I take a lot of notes,” Dumas said. “This is very helpful if you need school supplies and you don’t have enough money to go out and get them.”

Dumas also said that he is excited for the school year to begin so he can reconnect with his friends and meet his new teachers.

Mohammad Ali, 12, also of Augusta, opened his bag and displayed some of the goods he had picked up: flashcards, markers, a pencil sharpener.

Pulling out another item, Mohammad, who moved to the United States from Iraq with his family and has been living in Maine for one year, struggled to find the English words for it, but eventually succeeded: “hand sanitizer.”

Asked how he felt about the giveaway, Mohammad’s answer was succinct: “happy.”

The giveaway was the first of what the Augusta Elks Lodge hopes will become an annual event. The event was partly funded by a $1,500 grant from the national Elks organization that was sent as part of its 150th anniversary celebration, coming on Feb. 16, 2018. A number of local groups also donated supplies and funds.

Given the large turnout on Saturday morning, “Next year, we’re going to make sure it’s a lot bigger,” said Michaud, whose wife, Lina, was chairwoman of the event. “We were planning for 100-to-150 (families to come). We blew that right out of the water.”

He estimated that 300 or 400 families had come on Saturday.

Prior to the event, Michaud said the goal of the giveaway was to equip children from needy families for success in the school year ahead, though all families were welcome.

“These are basic items kids need to have for school,” Michaud said. “But, believe it or not, a lot of kids in these communities start school with nothing but the shirt on their backs. Close to 50 percent of kids going to schools in the city of Augusta are at or under the poverty level. So there is a definite need for these things, to give these kids a fighting chance.”

One woman at the event, Brenda Lee, who declined to give her full name, said she has foster children. One of them, a young girl, was getting her bangs trimmed on Saturday morning.

Brenda Lee estimated that the cost of school supplies for each child can be around $40 each fall, plus whatever they need to spend later in the year, and that the giveaway helped defray those costs.

“We really appreciate that they’re doing this,” she said.

Jan Rollins, the assistant principal of Cony High School, was helping give away supplies on Saturday. She noted that some families had just come to the giveaway for particular items, like backpacks and clothes. She also said that many teachers in the Augusta schools buy supplies for their classes themselves.

“I think it’s amazing,” she said of the effort. “I think it also shows the need. … I’m hoping the community can pitch in next year.”

Charles Eichacker — 621-5642

[email protected]

Twitter: @ceichacker

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