North Carolina Baptist associations coordinated several toy drives this season, bringing joy and sharing the hope of the gospel to families in their communities.

The associations started working with school systems, daycare centers, hospitals and county agencies this fall to identify families in need and invite them to participate in this year’s Christmas toy drives.

In Wilkesboro, Brushy Mountain Baptist Association served 480 families earlier this month, giving $100,000 worth of toys to 1,310 children. Volunteers from churches helped purchase and collect the toys, process wishlists from children and set up stations for parents to choose gift wrapping paper. As families picked up items and visited the gift wrap tent, other volunteers offered prayer and initiated gospel conversations.

Three people professed faith in Christ, said John Triplett, associate associational mission strategist for Brushy Mountain.

“It wasn’t about toys at all,” Triplett said. “It was about supporting our families and getting an opportunity to share the gospel with them, and bringing some hope to a hopeless world.”

Through the association’s Hope Center, Triplett also follows up with any individuals and families that notify volunteers of other needs. The Hope Center is Brushy Mountain’s ministry hub that provides food, financial assistance, baby supplies and wood for heating.

Triplett said support from the community and churches not affiliated with the association reflect “a common ground here at the Hope Center.”

“We try to turn it all about Jesus.”

In Jefferson, the Ashe Baptist Association held its 24th annual Ashe County Children’s Christmas Project and distributed 872 bags of gifts. Each child also received a backpack from the Stanly-Montgomery Baptist Association and Kinza Memorial Baptist Church.

Families from Ashe Association churches, local businesses and other partner organizations sponsored children and purchased gifts for them.

“We’re trying to help the family as a whole, not just with spiritual needs, but to help meet the physical needs as well.” — David Heller

David Blackburn, Ashe Association’s associational mission strategist, said those involved pray for the children and their parents – “that they’ll know the Lord and that they know there’s a God in heaven that loves them, and that there are people in Ashe County and beyond that love them, as well.”

The Columbus Baptist Association’s toy store operated slightly differently. From Dec. 8-11, families arrived on a staggered schedule to shop for new toys at reduced prices, giving parents a chance to buy gifts for their children themselves, said David Heller, associational mission strategist for the Columbus Association. Funding is available for families with increased need to acquire toys at no cost.

Columbus Association served 139 families this year, including 383 children. Volunteers shared the gospel with every family and saw six professions of faith. Over the last 11 years, they have seen more than 250 people come to know the Lord as a result of the ministry, Heller said.

“It’s an opportunity for us to not just share the gospel but get them plugged into a church near where they live,” he said.

Fundraising for the toy store is a year-long effort by churches in the association and from other denominations, civic organizations, schools and other members of the community.

This year, about a third of the families that participated were new, said Heller. Many parents lost jobs because of the COVID-19 pandemic and have not been able to find the right work or sufficient income.

When volunteers share the gospel with families, they also counsel them regarding other concerns.

“We’ll find out if they need to get plugged in to GED programs or job training skills or food stamps and things like that, and then we’ve got relationships with those agencies that we refer them to for that,” Heller said.

“We’re trying to help the family as a whole, not just with spiritual needs, but to help meet the physical needs as well.”