ALPHARETTA, Ga. — Since 2001, Appalachian Regional Ministries, a ministry of the North American Mission Board, has collected and distributed more than 140,000 Christmas backpacks and boxes filled with toys, clothing, school supplies, food, and hygiene items and a Bible.
As the ministry has expanded over the years, backpacks were distributed in the 2015 outreach to more than 46,000 children affected by poverty in Appalachia as well as the Mississippi Delta and beyond.
NAMB’s Appalachian ministry has seen more than 4,000 decisions for Christ over the years as a result of the yearly initiative.
Polk County is one site in Tennessee where children are beneficiaries of the backpacks and boxes.
Polk County has a poverty rate above the national average and, normally, double-digit unemployment, observed Ryan Potts, director of missions for Polk County Baptist Association, based in Benton.
“Most every home could benefit from their child receiving a backpack. Thanks to our school system, administrators, staff and employees, the opportunity was opened for us to display the love of Christ to every pre-K to 8th-grade student in west Polk County,” he said.
Potts noted that each child left the lunchroom with a backpack filled with toys, snack items, hygiene products, school supplies, and a Bible.
Potts added that one association provided hand-crocheted scarfs and hats for several of the backpacks. These were made by a lady who is over 90 years old and lives in a nursing home in Georgia, he said. “She works all year making these items to donate to the Christmas Backpack program. Thankfully, our association has been the recipients of some of those backpacks over the last couple years.”
Letters were distributed with the backpacks about the ministry and the churches of our association, so parents could be informed of the source and the ultimate goal to convey God’s love in a practical way, Potts added.
Mark D. Partin, pastor, Indiana Avenue Baptist Church, LaFollette, shared that through NAMB, “we have been enabled to touch many lives in an area that has so many needs.
“Our largest distribution took place at the Lafollette Elementary School. All 750 kids in the school are on free lunch. Many of these children do not eat again until school the next day. The backpacks are truly a blessing for these kids. We prayed over them for children who needed food to get food and those who need a blanket to get the blankets,” he related.
“God heard and honored our prayers,” Partin said.
As each grade came into the gymnasium where the gifts were distributed Partin “was allowed to pray over them and for them in the name of Jesus Christ. It was truly a blessing.”
Bill Barker, national director of NAMB’s Appalachian Regional Ministry and Mississippi River Ministry, noted that “we get to see and hear the stories every year, but the novelty never wears off, and this year is no exception.”
Barker said the children are especially appreciative of the food they receive. “One of the little girls sent a thank-you note back to her ministry center that said she was grateful for the toys and grateful for the other stuff, but she really liked the food best of all, because that’s all she had at Christmas.”
In 2015, 46,112 backpacks were distributed by the ministry, Barker said.