This holiday season, 50,000 children living in the Appalachia and Mississippi Delta regions will receive backpacks filled with school supplies, new items of clothing and a Christmas gift thanks to the efforts of the Southern Baptist Convention–supported North American Mission Board.
Bill Barker, the NAMB national director of Appalachian regional ministry/Mississippi River ministry, spearheaded the effort through Send Relief, an organization that distributed the items to recipients.
In an interview with The Christian Post earlier this week, Barker said NAMB provided "Christmas backpacks" filled with goodies to local ministries, churches, and schools. Those organizations then distributed the backpacks to children in need in their communities.
"There's no form (for parents) to fill out. My basic premise is, if they've qualified for free lunch (in school), that's good enough," said Barker.
He explained that in some cases those who benefit from free lunch make up 100 percent of the student body. In other cases there's a lower percentage.
"Those kids [who] don't receive the free lunches usually live just above the poverty [level]. So we just include everyone," he said. The NAMB relies on local ministries, churches and schools to identify children living in blighted areas.
The 50,000 Christmas backpacks, which actually totalled about 50,099, contained school supplies, personal hygine items, a new Christmas toy, new items of clothing, and food, when possible, Barker said. "The number one item we get thanks for by the kids is the food."
Barker explained that the backpacks serve three main purposes:
They are child and teen-focused, containing a Christmas gift and school supplies.
They are Christ-centered and include a copy of the Christmas story, a Gospel tract and — when a church can — a readable translation of the Bible.
If a Bible is not included, a child is able to enroll in NAMB's postage-paid Bible study correspondence called the Mailbox Club. After eight correspondence lessons, which comprise the first of four series of studies, the child can receive a leather-bound Bible in the God's Word translation.
"The Mailbox Club material that we use comes from the Mailbox Club out of Valdosta, Georgia. So it's not something we write. It's something that's been time-tested, and is used by other organizations, such as Child Evangelism, Samaritan's Purse, Youth For Christ, and Campus Crusade."
The third function of the packs is to try to keep the children engaged with a church, and to be "local church connected," said Barker. "We're working with churches and ministry centers that are sponsored by local churches that are working with children who live in poverty."
Barker said he visited a West Virginia church earlier this week where he delivered Christmas backpacks. That church is now planning a Christmas event and its members have gone out into the community to invite backpack recipients and their parents to join them for a hot meal, or receive food boxes. "They have 60 or 70 children that have committed to be there with a parent or guardian."
But Christmastime isn't the only season that NAMB provides support for those in need. "We have Backpacks of Hope that go out all-year-round [that] organizations and churches do on the weekends for children who have been identified in certain school systems that go home on Friday to no food in the house. So we have churches from Mississippi, Louisiana, all the way up into Pennsylvania that have worked to provide Backpacks of Hope for children on weekends."
Barker added that NAMB also supplies Backpacks of Hope for victims of natural disasters through the Send Relief partnership.