Send Relief backpacks help churches in community partnerships

By Scott Barkley

NORMAN, Okla. (BP) – “Little” victories depend on where you stand.

Cornerstone Indian Baptist Church hadn’t hosted its Following the Trail Men and Boys Christian Conference in 10 years. In June, volunteers from several churches distributed backpacks received courtesy of Send Relief that had been filled with school supplies.

Flowood Baptist Church in Mississippi packed 175 backpacks for area children. Photo courtesy of FBC

In this area where needs are about the only thing in abundance, notebooks and pencils are one type of treasure. Another is the time kids spend with volunteers strengthening ties to the community.

There are also the treasures you never see coming.

“We were running behind schedule and going to cancel the basketball contest,” said Bryce Scott, pastor.

But one participant had been in Scott’s ear about the contest, insistent that they have it. He wouldn’t have been the first pick in a regular game. Smallish and not very athletic compared to others on the court.

But he got hot and found his groove, knocking down trey after trey to run away with the win.

“It made my weekend,” Scott said.

It may have happened in a nondescript church parking lot with jagged, roller-painted 3-point lines, but the victory was big.

Connection points

Churches are able to generate similar victories in their communities through connection points such as giving away free backpacks provided by Send Relief.

The annual Backpack Day is scheduled for Aug. 6, but churches are welcome to hold their own anytime, said Daryn Sinclair, marketing strategist for Send Relief.

Volunteers from Flowood Baptist Church fill backpacks with school supplies. Photo courtesy of FBC

Backpacks are freely provided, but this year’s supply ran out after only a couple of days across some 900 participating churches. The promo kit and ministry guide for churches that go with the backpacks are still useful resources for those looking to bolster their community connections.

Ryan Paterson, pastor of A Church Family Network in San Jose, Calif., said backpacks will be filled during the summer and distributed when school resumes. He expects hundreds of people to benefit from the outreach that is in partnership with a lower-income program at a local school.

“We know this is an emotional time when people are thankful for what is offered them,” he said.

In Mississippi, the wives of Flowood Baptist Church’s pastor, student pastor and music minister are all teachers. So, it’s no surprise that in its third year of doing so the church will be distributing 175 backpacks filled with grade-specific supplies.

“Our community is quite diverse,” said Ben Hudspeth, student pastor. “The school right next door to our church, Flowood Elementary, consists of nine ethnic groups. Many families in our community are on fixed incomes.”

Parents receiving the backpacks get a personal invitation to church.

“They come with their kids to pick these backpacks up and are always grateful. The biggest blessing is seeing a kid light up knowing he or she will have everything they need for school,” Hudspeth said.

An intentional way

Chillicothe Baptist Church in Ohio is growing its community outreach, said Pastor Kevin Ridder. The backpack giveaway is a perfect chance to build that momentum.

“This past year, the Lord gave us opportunities to be more intentional about connecting in our community,” said Ridder, in his first year at CBC after 15 years as a pastor in Indiana. “One of the key ways we want to do that is through the local schools.”

Volunteers from area churches watch the recreation time during a conference for men and boys hosted by Cornerstone Indian Baptist Church in Norman, Okla. The conference also featured the giveaway of backpacks from Send Relief that were filled with school supplies from churches. Photo courtesy of Bryce Scott

Sunday School classes and mission groups within the church donated the supplies and filled the backpacks with school supplies and information about the church and the Gospel. Prayer over each backpack was the final touch.

Church members teach in local schools. A deacon works in the system administration office. Several coaches from within the congregation help in finding ways to a community-connection victory.

“They’re very mission-minded and intentional about sharing their faith,” said Ridder. “Our greatest extension is through those who are actually there. So, when there’s a chance for our church to be a part of something, that’s what we want to do.”

Published July 14, 2023

Scott Barkley

Scott Barkley is a national correspondent for Baptist Press.