FAYETTEVILLE – It’s never too early for Georgia Baptists to start thinking about Christmas – Christmas Backpacks, that is – and late summer back-to-school sales mean that Georgia Baptists can load up on discounts as they are loading up on backpacks for the needy.
What began in 2001 with North Lanier Baptist Church, Cumming, filling 300 shoeboxes with small items for needy children and teens at Christmas transitioned in 2012 to Christmas Backpacks — an opportunity for all Georgia Baptists to make a difference in the life of an impoverished child or teen with the gift of a backpack. The backpacks, filled with school supplies, clothing, food, hygiene items, toys, and the Christmas story, “meet physical and emotional needs and open the door to meet spiritual needs,” said Bill Barker, national director, Appalachian Mountain Ministry (AMM), Georgia Baptist Mission Board.
Throughout America, an estimated one in three children lives in poverty. The backpacks, Barker said, are one way that Georgia Baptists “can do more than just tell someone how much Jesus loves them; they can show them how much Jesus loves them.” Quite often, the hearts of parents or guardians of the children receiving the backpacks, are “softened for hearing the Gospel,” he said.
The Christmas Backpacks ministry has grown from year to year, with 5,473 backpacks collected in Georgia in 2012, the ministry’s inaugural year. The highest number of Christmas Backpacks collected in Georgia was 38,141 in 2017. Last year, Georgia Baptists collected 33,407 Christmas Backpacks. To date, Georgia has distributed 198,486 backpacks.
This year, the goal for Georgia Baptists is 35,000. The backpacks can be delivered at this year’s Georgia Baptist annual meeting, Nov. 10-12, at New Hope Baptist Church, Fayetteville. Additionally, seven other collection sites are scattered throughout the state. Some churches and associations choose to deliver their backpacks directly to ministry sites where they may have longstanding relationships.
Once collected, Georgia Baptists’ Christmas Backpacks will be delivered in impoverished areas in Kentucky, New York, and Tennessee, as well as two associations in southwest Georgia: Bethel Baptist Association and Summerhill Baptist Association, which are among the state’s top 10 counties with the highest poverty rates among children.
Each year, grateful children handwrite thank you notes for their Christmas Backpacks. The favorite item in the backpacks is food. More than once children have written that the food in the backpack is the only thing they will have to eat on Christmas day. One little boy wrote, “Thank you for the canned hotdogs. I loved ‘em. Please send me some more.”
Other state conventions joining the effort through AMM include Alabama, Louisiana, Ohio, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Kentucky, Maryland, and the Southern Baptist Conservatives of Virginia. Additionally, backpacks are received from churches in Arkansas, Florida, Mississippi, Missouri, Texas, and Pennsylvania. Since 2012, the state conventions, combined, have collected 313,370 backpacks and recorded 9,347 professions of faith.
“Lives are being changed because someone cared enough to put together a Christmas Backpack,” Barker said.
For more information, visit the Christmas Backpacks website here.