ALBANY — “Dear Backpack People …”
With that salutation, Pat Wilks knows that the time and effort that Mallary Association churches spent on collecting backpacks for underprivileged children has paid off in spades.
The Association has more than 300 “Thank You” letters from children and parents in Appalachia who received backpacks from churches this past Christmas. And now with all sorts of back-to-school sales in full progress, Wilks and others statewide are banking the savings as they ramp up their purchases.
Newspapers from Atlanta to Valdosta are touting sales at locations such as Staples and Walmart that are turning up the heat on the annual ritual. And while families are shopping for their own children, they can take advantage of the discounts to load up their backpacks for those less needy.
Georgia Baptists are among those stimulating the economy this and next month as schools begin their Fall semesters. Wilks says Mallary Baptists are not caught sleeping when it comes to catching the sales for the children on their lists.
“Our collections have grown from about 300 to close to 1,300 now,” she said. “We plan to drive the backpacks up to Harrogate, TN in middle December to distribute them among 5 elementary and middle schools in Cumberland Gap Association. Another group brings backpacks from Ohio to distribute in other schools, which totals about 3,000 between our two groups.”
She noted that school principals allow the churches to talk about Jesus before the backpacks are distributed. One fourth grader told Wilks the presentation was the most he had ever heard about Christ.
“Not everyone identifies with the need and understands the full situation. In the area of Tennessee where we minister, about 40 percent of the children do not live with their biological parents due to drug abuse,” she explains.
“The area is coal country with a very weak economy where jobs are few; that level of poverty leads to drug abuse and that directly impacts the children. There is some employment in the coal industry but it is very limited … next to no work is available for the parents.”
And that frequently means little or no Christmas for the children. The ministry assistant said the backpacks distribution has grown to be a big part of her family’s Christmas tradition.
“I see the need everytime I read one of the “thank you” notes from Tennessee. How can we not stop going after the children are dependent on us? I know I can’t.”
Georgia Baptists are well into their annual collection for the needed items for children in Appalachia, and the second year for distribution to southwest Georgia children, as well. Last year, churches collected 38,246 backpacks for children and their families. This year’s goal has been set at a record 40,000.
As last year, Bethel and Summerhill Baptist Associations will be on the receiving end in the state. They are among the state’s Top 10 counties with the highest poverty rates among children.
Georgia Baptists have sent nearly 163,895 backpacks to needy children and families since the ministry began with 5,473 in 2012. Nearly 4,000 professions of faith have been recorded.
Other state conventions joining the effort through AMM include Alabama, Louisiana, Ohio, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Kentucky, and the Southern Baptist Conservatives of Virginia. Backpacks are also received from churches in Arkansas, Florida, Mississippi, Missouri, and Pennsylvania.
Georgia Baptists have five collection sites to choose between, or messengers can bring their boxes loaded with Christmas joy to the site of this year’s annual meeting. The Nov. 11-13 business and worship event will be held at host church Second Baptist Church in Warner Robins.