By Grace Thornton
The Alabama Baptist
From June to almost November, all Aimee Starling thinks about is backpacks.
It’s been that way now for several years.
“Three years ago, a letter was sent out to each association challenging them to set a goal of maybe 50 backpacks each,” said Starling, a member of Adoniram Baptist Church, Abbeville, in Judson Baptist Association. “We set our goal at 21. We thought, ‘That’s one per church — certainly we can manage that.’”
They managed 42 that year.Last year they set their goal at 50 and packed 81.
“This year we set our goal at 100 and we had 170,” said Starling, who also serves as a missions mobilizer for the North American Mission Board (NAMB). “It’s all because of the support of our churches.”
The Backpacks of Hope project, run each year by NAMB, provides Christmas presents for thousands of impoverished children in Appalachia and the Mississippi Delta.
“Our churches have overwhelmingly supported it,” Starling said.
Throughout the year, churches give both money and supplies to cover what’s needed. Starling buys the backpacks at a discount then shops with donated funds to get the remaining supplies to fill them. Volunteers pack the bags.
It’s a well-loved project, Starling said. And this year, when church messengers to the associational meeting heard about the program, they went back and challenged their church to get involved.
They gave $1,000 — enough to fill 66 backpacks.
“It’s a project the churches have really grabbed hold of,” Starling said.
Judson Association’s backpacks have gone west to the Mississippi Delta region each year, but Jonathan Jenkins, pastor of Sister Springs Baptist Church, Tyler, in Selma Baptist Association, said his church’s go north.
For the past few years, a team from his church has not only packed the bags but helped with distribution in Williamsburg, Kentucky, part of the area served by Appalachian Regional Ministry.
“Each year, the number of backpacks has grown,” Jenkins said. “It started out as a simple project where we could give and send, but then it grew into an opportunity to get our folks involved in going.”
This year, a team of 47 people from across Selma Association went in mid-December with Sister Springs Baptist to deliver 340 backpacks.
On previous trips, they have met and ministered to people in extreme poverty, “folks who don’t have beds to sleep in, living in homes that don’t keep out the weather or the wind,” Jenkins said. “It’s been really interesting to see what God has done through the ministry there. It’s been really, really good.”
For more information about Backpacks of Hope, visit www.namb.net/send-relief/backpacks-of-hope.