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Tom Smart, Deseret News
Luella Stergeon, 5, is all smiles after getting a sticker after being measured as children have their foot sizes and clothing sizes measured for donations to help them have new clothes for back to school at the Road Home Shelter Monday, July 11, 2011, in Salt Lake City, Utah.

SALT LAKE CITY —Families at the Road Home shelter got a welcome head start on their their back-to-school shopping Monday.

Organizers for The Road Home Apple Tree Project kicked off their annual clothing and school-supply drive, which invites residents along the Wasatch Front to help children in need during their regular shopping.

"There's a tremendous opportunity just to pick up an extra item" said Chris Thomas, owner of sponsoring company Intrepid.

Thomas said 36 paper trees will be placed from Ogden to Provo in Payless Shoesource, DownEast Outfitters, Staples and Sanctuary Day Spa locations. Patrons at those stores are asked to pick an apple from the trees, which contain the name and needs of a child, and purchase items on their behalf.

Thomas said last year, organizers were able to provide each child with three complete outfits and two pairs of shoes.

"It's an amazing experience to see the kids receiving their clothes," Thomas said.

He said without the help of this program, most of the children staying at the shelter would not have access to back-to-school items.

Monday's event had families passing through stations where volunteers measured for their clothing and shoe sizes, took their name and photograph and provided a slice of pizza, donated by Little Ceasar's.

Katrina Sturgeon was there with her daughter, Luella, who said she's excited to start kindergarten in the fall. Luelle added she is "a whole hand" old and that her favorite color is "red and white and green and blue and yellow."

Her mother was just excited for the help.

"The position we're in right now, we don't have a lot of money for things," Sturgeon said.

Sturgeon and her daughter have been at The Road Home for six weeks. During that time, she said she has received invaluable assistance with everything from a place to stay to help obtaining lost documentation for her and Luella.

"They've helped us a lot here," Sturgeon said. "If we didn't have this place we don't know what we would do."

Amanda Chidester had her three daughters with her, two of which are school-age — Baylee, who will start second grade in the fall, and Cortnee, who will be in first grade. Both girls were measured for clothes and with mouths full of pizza nodded to say they were excited for school to start.

"I'm a single mom with three kids so it's really good of them to do this," Chidester said.

Thomas said people tend to associate The Road Home with the Christmas season but that there is a need year-round for donations. The school year, he said, is a time when children in difficult situations can use a "pick-me-up."

"Our goal is really to help these kids out," Thomas said.

E-mail: benwood@desnews.com