AUGUSTA – When Michael “Shu” and Lina Michaud started on Grand Augusta back-to-school program Five years ago, with 150 backpacks to hand out, after 30 minutes there wasn’t even a pencil.
The following year, after redoubling their efforts, they were still short of supplies.
What they thought was a one-time event has turned into an annual school supplies drive, which has grown in size by almost 100% over the past five years.
On Sunday, the Michauds and their team of volunteers will hand out 1,000 backpacks to children in the greater Augusta region for the start of the school year. The drive-through event will take place from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. at the Augusta Civic Center. Children must be in the car to receive a backpack.
“Our goal is to make sure that every student who starts school in September, when it comes to their supplies, is on an equal footing,” said Michael Michaud. “We want to give them the tools they need to be successful.
Sunday’s event is the culmination of a year-long effort and $ 21,000 in donations. The goal was to raise $ 30,000, but Michael Michaud said if they included cash donations as well as donated items, the total could be closer to the community’s $ 30,000. It will be equivalent to approximately 1,000 backpacks to distribute to students of all grade levels. Michael Michaud said he used the school supply list from local schools to fill the backpacks.
The Grand Augusta back-to-school program received the mayor’s recognition of excellence – the REX award – at the Augusta city council meeting last week.
Michaud thanks his wife for having had the idea of the program.
When she saw that the Elks Lodge in Augusta was giving out $ 1,500 scholarships five years ago, she got one and thought of buying backpacks and supplies for the students in the area. This money, along with a few other donations, funded the start of the program and gave backpacks to 150 students this first year.
They saw the need for the program and carried it over the following year, with more donations and help from the community.
Quite quickly, the program grew out of Elks Lodge from the number of items donated and grew into a non-profit organization as well as community partnerships, including one with Hannaford. The grocery store will distribute healthy bags of food to attendees attending the event on Sunday.
Now other towns and villages in the region have started their own programs similar to the Great Augusta program.
“There is a clear need,” said Michaud. “We see a need in almost every community. “
And it didn’t stop there – when the coronavirus pandemic hit, ordering of supply turned into a real drive-thru. The program distributed 750 backpacks last year.
Michael Michaud said equipping students with tools and school supplies will translate into the classroom and said 60% of students in the Augusta area will start school at a poverty level. He gave the example of students entering class with a new backpack, highlighters, and pencils that can “hang their heads up”.
With tools for success, Michael Michaud believes that students are the “future of the community”.
If all goes well, he said, and the pandemic is a “thing of the past”, the program would like to expand and offer free haircuts, eye exams, among other free services for the children of the region. Michael Michaud said his time on Augusta’s board and his current position on city council made him open to his environment and made him want to “develop a program to help every child in all aspects in order to make sure he has every chance of success ”.
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