With a week to go before the start of school, Anchorage families lined up outside of East High School on Tuesday to pick up free school supplies.

Volunteers with the Helping Us Give School Supplies (HUGSS) program handed out backpacks filled with supplies for students in kindergarten through twelfth grade.

Alan Budhal with Lutheran Social Services said the morning started with families in line before the 9:30 a.m. opening. By the end of the first hour, he said about 285 families — and around 730 students — were already picking up backpacks.

Budhal said he expected the final turnout to be similar to last year when the program distributed supplies to nearly 3,400 students. Many in line said they were grateful for the help, including Anthony Upton who brought his three elementary aged sons.

"This is close to a $100 bill so that's a lot of food on the table," said Upton, noting the contents of one son's backpack. Upton said the free shopping spree couldn't have come at a better time.

Melissa Guim agreed the program was a big help for people with large families. The mother of five will have four children in elementary school this year, including 5-year-old twins who are headed for kindergarten.

"They all say kids do get expensive while they grow up and they do. So it really helps out," she said.

HUGSS is meant to help families financially but Budhal said it has an even bigger goal: to make sure children have the things in hand they'll need to learn.

"Especially the younger kids," he said. "It's critical that they start with the right tools, ready to learn on the first day of school." 

Budhal said any extra supplies would be turned over to the Anchorage School District's Children in Transition Program to distribute to families in need.

If you missed out on the HUGGS event and still need help with school supplies, the Salvation Army is teaming up with all Fred Meyer stores across the state in an effort to help out.

"If people want to help out, all they need to do is, when they're at Fred Meyer doing their shopping, they can buy a few school supplies," Peter Pemberton with the Salvation Army said. "There will be boxes or barrels that are identified that it's for the Salvation Army back to school supplies."

All school supplies for kindergarten through twelfth grade will be accepted. After checkout, shoppers can drop off the items they'd like to donate into the bins. The Salvation Army will pick up the donated items on Aug. 23.

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