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Baptists send backpacks for children in Appalachia, Atlanta

Emory Berry, senior pastor of Greenforest Community Baptist Church near Atlanta, stands in the middle of others distributing backpacks prior to Christmas last year.

ATLANTA (BP) – The efforts of two groups of Georgia Baptists have sent school supplies, toys, Bibles, food and other materials to needy children both locally as well as into other states.

In Atlanta, Greenforest Community Baptist Church held its second annual Christmastime backpack giveaway Dec. 18. The line began to take shape about two hours prior of the 10 a.m. drive-thru event, said senior pastor Emory Berry.

“It’s been amazing,” he told Baptist Press. “There were people who never thought they would have been in need, but they’ve lost income and jobs. We want to be sensitive to those needs and try and spread some Christmas cheer while being the hands and feet of Christ.”

Greenforest distributed approximately 500 backpacks on a day that exemplified the church’s continued local ministry impact. Long a historic presence in the Atlanta area, in recent years it has reached out through ways such as giving innumerable bags of groceries, providing rental assistance and serving as a Covid testing site with the Dekalb County Department of Health. 

To the northeast, churches in the Georgia Baptist associations of Habersham, Liberty and Rabun joined together Dec. 11 to send nearly 1,100 backpacks filled with food, gifts and a Bible to children in West Virginia. Other supplies included boxes of food and blankets. 

Bill Barker, associational missionary for Rabun where he is also pastor of Wolffork Baptist Church, led the distribution. The return to his home state and decades of ministry there have become a lifelong passion for him.

“It’s like placing a drop of water in a place with so much need,” he said. “This year we went to one of the poorest places in the state.” Years of serving in the area and his personal connection to the region, he added, has only magnified the need for church involvement and funding for those ministries. 

“I’m thankful God allowed us to go in and work there this year,” he said. “The look on those kids’ faces when they receive the backpacks … there are no words in my vocabular to describe it.”

Other churches from across Georgia as well as one in Florida contributed the backpacks. First Baptist in Fayetteville, Ga. gave the largest amount, Barker said.

The backpacks distributed at Greenforest were provided through the joint efforts of the Atlanta Metro Baptist Association and Mission Georgia, said AMBA executive director Jimmy Baughcum. Berry and Greenforest’s continued efforts to reach its community are paramount to living out the gospel, Baughcum added, as is the work of people like Ricky Thrasher, Georgia Baptist state missionary in Associational Missions.

“He’s been a huge resource for us,” Baughcum said. 

Although only in its second year, the backpack giveaway is already incredibly popular, said Berry, with requests starting at Thanksgiving. Greenforest, he testified, is ready to meet the challenge.

“Our membership has a large heart and capacity for generosity,” he said. “We’ve been focusing on community outreach and missions and our members have been highly responsive to that. They take great joy and responsibility in having a footprint outside of the local church.”