AUGUSTA — Augusta Elks Lodge leaders say they were disheartened by having to turn numerous families away empty-handed after an overwhelming number of people turned out for the its first-ever free school supply giveaway last year.

Club leaders say are contacting area people, businesses and organizations in hope of not having to turn away anyone in need at this year’s event.

Their goal is collecting 400 backpacks filled with pens, pencils and other school supplies to give to area students who otherwise might go without such basic learning necessities, enough to match the unexpectedly huge response to the first school supply giveaway last year, to which Elks leaders anticipated they’d get around 150 families.

Instead, they got nearly 400 families, about two-thirds of whom had to be turned away without scoring any free supplies because the Elks ran out of them.

“It was a very humbling experience to have to go out and see the line, out our doors all the way to the softball field, and tell those folks we had run out of everything,” said Mike Michaud, past exalted ruler of the Augusta Elks Lodge. “The people standing in line, even people who didn’t get anything, were appreciative of what we were trying to do. That made me feel better, but then it didn’t. We don’t want to do that again this year. Our goal is to not have to turn anyone away.”

The school supply handout is planned for 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Aug. 25 at the Augusta Elks Lodge, at 397 Civic Center Drive. With just a month to go, Michaud said, the Elks have collected money and supplies for the giveaway but still have a long way to go before they’ll have enough to meet the expected demand. So they’re seeking donors to join the lodge in contributing school supplies, or money that can be used to buy such supplies, to give to area students.

They’re looking for new items including backpacks, which they hope to fill with other donated new items, such as crayons, pens, pencils, scissors, notebooks, glue, toothbrushes, clothing and healthy snacks.

“Basically anything anyone can think of that we can put in a backpack that will benefit a child on day one of school,” Michaud said of the sort of supplies they’re looking to collect and redistribute to students in need. “We’re talking about the basic tools that every student needs. Too many kids go to school with just the shirt on their back and having nothing. How does that make a kid feel, being next to another kid with new sneakers and everything else? We want to give some kids some self-confidence.”

A volunteer, left, hands a pencil to a student Aug. 26, 2017, during a backpack and school supplies giveaway at the Augusta Elks Lodge. Staff file photo by Joe Phelan

The Elks are working with area businesses, and there are boxes where people can drop off school supplies at several stores at the Marketplace at Augusta, and also will have some donation boxes soon at businesses in downtown Augusta.

People wishing to contribute also may bring items or financial donations directly to the Elks Lodge in Augusta, or mail a check, payable to the Augusta Elks, in care of Mike Michaud, 27 Bunny St., Augusta, ME 04330. Michaud may be reached for more information at 441-2838.

He said 100 percent of all monetary donations will be spent on school supplies and backpacks.

Michaud said Elks members have donated many items and funds, as well as their time, toward the effort; and the Elks’ national organization awarded the project a $2,000 grant. Michaud said they’ve also received about $5,000 in donations from area businesses so far, but they still have a long way to go to reach their goal of being able to provide 400 backpacks containing other school supplies.

He said they figure it will cost about $50 apiece to put together a backpack filled with other school supplies, so putting together 400 of them could cost around $20,000.

Michaud said about 60 percent of local students starting school are at or below the poverty level.

The children receiving the items should be present at the Aug. 25 event.

The giveaway is meant to help students in need throughout central Maine.

“It’s not just Augusta. The whole community has to step up and make sure every kid in our community has an opportunity to succeed this year, that’s our goal,” Michaud said. “We’re a long way from our goal, with only a month to go. We’ve been using the African proverb, ‘It takes a village to raise a child,’ because it really does in this day and age.”

Keith Edwards — 621-5647

[email protected]

Twitter: @kedwardskj

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