From the beginning, Christmas Backpacks have been a local church driven initiative to needy children. Initially, a ministry driven through the Georgia Baptist WMU, it was quickly picked up by churches in other states and soon by state conventions. Each state convention, while similar in focus had their name and promotional material for the Christmas Backpacks. With the changes in 2017, which impacted the Christmas Backpacks and ministry in Appalachia and the Mississippi River Delta region, a meeting was called in January 2018 of the partnering state conventions and the National WMU to discuss the future of Christmas Backpacks.
Out of that meeting came not only a commitment to continue the Christmas Backpacks but some changes designed to make it more useful and to address some of the issues being raised by both those sending and those receiving the Christmas Backpacks. We are all on a journey learning and making changes in the process as we work together. Below are some of the frequent questions asked by participants with the Christmas Backpacks.
Why the name change to Christmas Backpacks?
From the beginning in 2001, the focus has been on ministering to children during the Christmas season of the year. In 2012, the Georgia Baptist WMU, to avoid confusion with another ministry, changed from shoeboxes to backpacks, and other state conventions and NAMB quickly joined in the focus with each adopting their name and focus. During the Round-Table meeting in January, the participants decided to move a national website, name, and logo. At the same time, it was agreed that each state convention would continue to maintain its individual focus. To view, the website click here. To see the participating partner state conventions, click here.
Why do we insist on distributing the Christmas Backpacks between Thanksgiving and Christmas?
We get more questions about why we insist on distributing the Christmas Backpacks between Thanksgiving and Christmas than on any other area of this ministry. Christmas is a busy time of the year, and many churches would prefer to distribute the Christmas Backpacks earlier in the year. So why?
First, the Christmas season is a time when people are more sensitive to the needs of children and teenagers who live in stressful situations. By coming alongside a family or child during the Christmas season, second, their hearts are open to listening to and responding to the gospel. A typical comment from the children and their parents when we tell the Christmas Story is, “I have never heard that before.”
A third reason is that the Christmas Backpacks meet physical, emotional, and spiritual needs during a difficult time in the child or teenager’s life. Frequently, older adults want to share with me about growing up in Appalachia and how severe the Christmas season was for them. Some of their friends at school would be receiving something for Christmas, but for them, it was just another day. Today, many of the children receiving the Christmas Backpacks look forward, not only to the new Christmas gift but to receiving gloves and a toboggan; or new underclothing and socks; or food.
Consistently the food placed in the Christmas Backpacks is the number one item the children thank us for each year.
Lastly, today many secular organizations are doing events to assist children and teenagers in many impoverished communities. As a result, the impact of local church participation has been diminished. Focusing on the Christmas season enables us effectively to minister to children and frequently their families without competing with a secular environment.
Why did you drop school supplies from the list of suggested items?
Over the past two years, we have had two challenges that lead to this decision. First, each year many well-meaning churches deliver Christmas Backpacks that are designed for a back-to-school event. These backpacks have some school supplies, and some will have hygiene items, but they do not qualify as Christmas Backpacks. As a result, we must find a church that is willing to complete the backpacks with new Christmas gifts, new clothing items, the Christmas Story, food, and other items. Whenever one of these backpacks slips past us and ends us with a child, we have a problem. Imagine for a moment you are a young child who received a backpack with just school supplies and your friend received one filled to the brim with all the suggested items.
The second reason is that several the school systems have moved to the electronic era and the students no longer need the school supplies. Last year we were asked by some ministry sites not to bring in Christmas Backpacks with school supplies. The children already had an overabundance of them.
The challenge for us is that not every school system has gone electronic and the local churches and ministries need the items for the children and teenagers. To address this, we have, first, encouraging partnerships between those collecting Christmas Backpacks and the distribution sites. Through the partnership, the needed school supplies can be requested.
Second, if a church has already purchased the school supplies or desires to include them in their Christmas Backpacks, we do not discourage it but instead, encourage them to do so.
Our goal is not to discourage individuals and churches including school supplies, but to make sure that every child receives a Christmas Backpack that expresses in a real and tangible way the love of Christ while meeting physical needs.
Why are you using ribbons instead of name tags?
A volunteer came up to me last year and sung, “And those nametags just keep falling off,” to the tune of “The Caisson Song.” Yes, the nametags have been a problem. Churches have tried to resolve the issue by taping the name tags to the backpacks, other used laminated tags, and one church even used duct tape, but the name tags still fell off.
In January 2018, we heard from several WMU leaders from across Georgia, each suggesting we find a new way and recommending the use of ribbons. One association switched to ribbons in 2017 and found them highly durable. During the Christmas Backpack Partnership meeting in January 2018, the decision was made to promote the use of ribbons instead of name tags.
Knowing that several churches and associations already had name tags printed for 2018, we recognized that it would take some time to phase in the ribbons and phase out the name tags. The new ribbon system is below. There will be more changes made in this system for 2019. We will be including a new color for preschoolers and another for older teenagers.
• Use two ribbons, one to indicate gender and one to indicate the age of the recipient.
• The two ribbons should be tied securely to the backpack. (see the KEY below)
Blue = Boy
Pink = Girl
Yellow = Ages 4-7
Green = Ages 8-10
Red = Ages 11-15
• Example: Girl, age 6
One pink ribbon, one yellow ribbon securely tied to the backpack