AUGUSTA — For the first time since the pandemic hit, the Greater Augusta Area Back to School Program was able to host its annual backpack giveaway in person at the Augusta Civic Center.

Mike “Shu” Michaud, who co-founded the program with his wife, Lina, in 2017, said this year’s event continues to improve on previous years, and that instead of a drive-through event at the Augusta Civic Center, guests will now be able to enter the building, allowing for extracurricular activities.

Michaud said on Thursday that the event started in 2017 when he was serving as Exalted Ruler of the Augusta Elks and found a $1,500 grant via the Elks National Foundation to celebrate the Augusta branch’s sesquicentennial.

He said they decided to use the money for a good cause, and filled 150 backpacks with school supplies and distributed them to local schoolchildren.

“Little did we know, we filled 150 backpacks that year and we turned away more than that amount because we were out within a half an hour,” he said. “We really were just doing that as a one and done, but after seeing the need in the community, we decided to hop on board and make it an annual event, and that’s how the Greater Augusta Back to School Program was born.”

This year, he said they’ve grown from 150 backpacks to roughly 1,100.


The program has seen improvements each year, with the group doubling their offerings to 300 in 2018. In 2019, they enlisted the help of other local groups such as the boy and girl scout troops and a local martial arts studio.

The program then officially became a 501c-3 nonprofit, but Maine and the rest of the world was soon hit with the COVID-19 pandemic. Instead of canceling, however, they held a drive-through event at the Augusta Civic Center and gave out 750 backpacks full of supplies.

The event was also held at the civic center last year, but the group raised nearly $30,000 and filled up 1,000 backpacks by the start of the new school year. They also purchased 200 winter coats, hats and mittens and distributed them to local schools, and created a literacy program targeted to local school students from grades K-6.

And while Mike and Lina still primarily oversee the program, he said they now have a board of directors and committees to take care of tasks like shopping and procuring all the necessary items.

“We’ve raised several thousand dollars in the community and through grants,” he said, adding that the Kennebec Valley United Way has been a major partner throughout the years.

In order to receive a backpack, Michaud said, the only requirement was that the students show up in person to the event.

Michaud said the event has received plenty of positive community feedback. A couple years ago, he said a woman who the program helped came back and offered to volunteer.

“Right then I knew that we were impacting people,” Michaud said. “For somebody to say ‘We were recipients of the program and we’re in a better place now, and we want to give back.’ No words can express — that was gratitude enough for us to keep going on.”

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