AUGUSTA — About 300 backpacks full of school supplies were handed out to children Saturday morning at the Augusta Elks Lodge, doubling the number that were handed out last year during the same event.

On Saturday, in its second year of holding the giveaway, the Augusta organization provided a backpack to every child who walked through its doors, along with pencils, books, binders, popcorn, haircuts and a mix of other supplies and services.

Families started lining up by 7 a.m. outside the lodge, even though doors did not open until 10 a.m. By the time the event ended at 2 p.m., more than 100 of the colorful bags were still unclaimed, and the Elks were planning to the distribute the surplus around the community.

For organizers, that outcome was far preferable to last year’s, when they ran out of supplies 45 minutes into the giveaway and weren’t able to provide backpacks to hundreds of families.

“That was our biggest disappointment last year,” said Lina Michaud, who helped start the annual giveaway, which they’ve titled Set for Success. “We had people standing around for hours who weren’t able to get supplies.”

“We’re not going to run out,” said Lina’s husband, Mike “Shu” Michaud, another organizer and a past exalted ruler of the lodge, near the start of Saturday’s event. “We’ve learned a lot about how to do things.”

When the even kicked off, a long line of families snaked across the side lawn of the lodge on Civic Center Drive, but organizers allowed a dozen children to come through at a time, and the line was mostly gone after the first hour.

In part to entertain those who had to wait outside, organizers raffled off soccer balls and other equipment. Inside, supplies were handed out on rows of tables that corresponded to the age of each child. More than 100 volunteers helped receive the children and pass out the bags, which had designs that included animals, flowers, stars, and Disney characters.

“It’s amazing,” said Jayne Goethe, of Augusta, after she had picked up a backpack, a lunch box, a toothbrush, a Dr. Seuss picture book, and other supplies for her 4-year-old daughter, Ariah. “It’s a really good idea. I think it should be held every year.”

Goethe praised how well-publicized the event was — she heard about it on Facebook — and how easy it was to get through the line of families. After arriving just past 10 a.m., she spent about 50 minutes getting the supplies.

In total, the Augusta Elks Lodge received about $20,000 in cash and in-kind donations ahead of Saturday’s giveaway, according to Lina Michaud. A number of businesses and organizations donated, as did people from across the country. The group’s national organization also provided $2,000.

They had more than 500 backpacks ready Saturday morning. Last year, by contrast, the group prepared just 150 backpacks.

Next year, the lodge hopes to partner with other organizations to hand out school supplies at locations across the state. The mission, Lina Michaud said, is to give every student a chance to start the school year on equal footing.

All children are eligible to participate, she said, “because we don’t want to single out the poor kid.”

Besides helping families afford school supplies, such programs help children feel ready for the school year in subtler ways, said Jan Strout, who helped raise her grandchildren and was volunteering at the giveaway on Saturday. Strout helps coordinate an Augusta-based support group for so-called “kinship families,” in which extended family members and close family friends are raising a child.

“It’s important for kids to want to go to school,” Strout said, but “it’s embarrassing, it’s demeaning for them to go in with a plastic bag.”

However, when a group so freely provides backpacks and school supplies to children, she continued, “it’s esteem-building. They feel loved.”

Charles Eichacker — 621-5642

[email protected]

Twitter: @ceichacker

 

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