Volunteers assist people Aug. 25, 2018, during the annual school supply giveaway at the Augusta Elks Lodge. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal file

AUGUSTA — Organizers of an annual school supply giveaway have more to offer this year, but are still wondering if it will be enough to meet the demand and help Augusta-area students as they return to classrooms amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

They have 600 backpacks — 150 more than last year — that will be stuffed with pens, pencils, notebooks and other school supplies.

“We feel the need, this year more than any, is huge for our area. We’re sure there have been people out of work and struggling,” said Mike Michaud, an Augusta city councilor and organizer of the event. “We want to be fair and make sure every kid in the greater Augusta area can get the tools they need to start the school year.”

The hope is that Sunday afternoon’s giveaway at the Augusta Civic Center parking lot will not be overwhelmed with people who do not really need the supplies or who are not from the Augusta area.

Local organizers said they also hope the event spawns similar ones across the state.

“We’re hoping other communities will catch on to this event,” Michaud said, “and do something like it in every community in the state of Maine.”

At Sunday’s event, scheduled for 1 p.m. to 3 p.m., youths will receive backpacks filled with school supplies appropriate to their grade level, according to organizers.

People wait outside before the doors open Aug. 25, 2018, for the annual school supply giveaway at the Augusta Elks Lodge. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal file

After being held the past three years at the Augusta Elks Lodge, the giveaway had been planned for inside Cony High School. But with group-limiting guidelines meant to help control the spread of the coronavirus, the event was moved outside and will be done in drive-thru style.

Families will drive into the Civic Center parking lot, using the main entrance, and check in to show organizers how many students are there for the supplies. Then they will drive up to volunteers who will hand them grade-appropriate supplies.

The youths, as in years past, must be present to get a backpack to ensure the supplies go to their intended recipients, according to Michaud.

He said volunteers will take their cues on how to run the event efficiently and safely from city workers and volunteers involved in a large food giveaway last week, which distributed about 1,200 boxes of food at the same site.

The Augusta Elks Lodge established the event in 2017, when organizers expected about 150 students seeking school supplies. They ended up getting twice that.

Although many Elks Lodge members are volunteering to help with this weekend’s giveaway, the event has outgrown the club, according to Michaud. He said a stand-alone, nonprofit organization — the Greater Augusta Back to School Program — was formed last year to oversee what has become a major event. The supplies are either donated or bought with donations from local businesses, organizations or residents.

“It’s a communitywide event, and the more people in our community involved in the event, the more successful it’s going to be,” Michaud said. “Because these people, these businesses are making an investment in the community.”

Donations can be mailed to: Greater Augusta Back to School Program, c/o Mike & Lina Michaud, 27 Bunny St,. Augusta, ME 04330. Mike Michaud can also be reached at 207-441-2838.

Any items not given out this year will be distributed to area schools, and cash donations not used to buy items this year will be put toward next year’s giveaway.

Said Michaud, “We plan to continue this event until that need is no longer there, which I don’t see happening anytime soon.”

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