Greater Augusta Area Back-to-School Program Hosts Sixth Annual Backpack Giveaway

AUGUSTA — For the first time since the pandemic hit, the Greater Augusta Area Back-to-School Program was able to hold its annual backpack 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 instead of a drive-in event at the Augusta Civic Center, guests will now be able to enter the building, allowing for extracurricular activities.

Michaud said Thursday that the event began in 2017 when he served as the exalted ruler of the Elks of Augusta and found a $1,500 grant through the National Elk Foundation to celebrate the branch’s 150th anniversary. from Augusta.

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

“We didn’t know it, we filled 150 backpacks that year and we refused more than that amount because we were out in less than half an hour,” he said. “We were really doing this as one and it was done, but after seeing the need in the community, we decided to come on board and make it an annual event, and that’s how the comeback program at the school of Grand Augusta was born.”

This year he said they have gone from 150 backpacks to around 1,100.

The program has seen improvements every year, with the group doubling its offerings to 300 in 2018. In 2019, they brought in other local groups such as Boy 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 were quickly hit by the COVID-19 pandemic. Instead of canceling, however, they held a drive-in event at the Augusta Civic Center and handed out 750 backpacks full of supplies.

The event also took place at the civic center last year, but the group raised nearly $30,000 and filled 1,000 backpacks at 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 for local school students in grades K-6.

And although Mike and Lina still primarily oversee the program, he said they now have a board and committees to take care of things like procurement and buying all the necessary items.

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

To receive a backpack, Michaud said, the only requirement was that students show up in person at the event.

Michaud said the event received lots of positive feedback from the community. A few years ago, he said a woman the program had helped came back and offered to volunteer.

“At that moment, I knew we had an impact on people,” Michaud said. “Somebody say, ‘We were the beneficiaries of the program and we’re in a better place now, and we want to give back.’ No words can express – it was enough gratitude to keep us going.

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