Sarah Hamblin of Fincastle is an eighth grader at Central Academy Middle School who looks forward to her spring birthday every year, but not for the reasons you make think. As her birthday draws near she doesn’t wish for presents but plenty of Easter baskets instead.

Sarah is now in her ninth year of collecting Easter baskets for children in need in Botetourt County and beyond through her charity, “Operation: Easter Bunny.” She started her charity just before her fifth birthday when she decided she didn’t need birthday gifts and wanted instead to help children at Easter. That first year she received 30 baskets, which she handed out at the Botetourt Food Pantry.

Over the years, Sarah’s charity has grown. Last year she collected a record 379 Easter baskets for a total collection of over 1,100 baskets over the past eight years.

She now donates Easter baskets in Botetourt County not only to the children served by the Botetourt Food Pantry, but also to all the students served by the Backpack Buddies program at all seven Botetourt County elementary schools, and to families served by the Botetourt Resource Center.

Last year, she also delivered Easter baskets to children throughout the Roanoke Valley including Carilion Roanoke Memorial Children’s Hospital, Roanoke Rescue Mission, Turning Point Shelter, two Vinton Elementary Schools and Bonsack Elementary School in Roanoke County.

Sarah and her friends also created special baskets for the girls at Teen Challenge in Fincastle. She still personally hands out the Easter baskets at the Botetourt Food Pantry where she volunteers several times a year.

Filled and cellophane bag wrapped Easter baskets may be dropped off Monday, Feb. 26 through Friday, March 23 in one of the “Operation: Easter Bunny” collection boxes located throughout Botetourt County.

Collection boxes are located at:

• St. Mark’s United Methodist Church in Daleville,

• Church of the Transfiguration in Fincastle,

• Orchard Hills Church in Bonsack and

• The Swinging Bridge Café on Main Street in Buchanan.

Baskets can be homemade or store bought, may include new toys, candy, games, books, stuffed animals and clothes, and must be securely wrapped in cellophane gift basket bags available at most dollar stores.

Easter baskets are for children ages newborn to 12 and any baskets designed for a specific age or gender should be labeled. A list of guidelines for donations is available at each basket collection site and on the “Operation Easter Bunny VA” Facebook page.

Sarah encourages church groups, Scout troops and other organizations to help make Easter baskets for donation. Last year organizations that helped included the Circle of Mary women’s group at Church of the Transfiguration in Fincastle, the women’s group at Greene Memorial United Methodist Church in downtown Roanoke, and the staff at Home Shopping Network in Blue Ridge.

Monetary donations are also accepted and used exclusively to purchase additional Easter baskets and basket supplies. Sarah and her friends use those supplies to create additional and specialty baskets for the charity.

Donations can be mailed to: Sarah Hamblin, Operation: Easter Bunny, P.O. Box 919, Daleville, 24083 (make checks payable to Operation: Easter Bunny).

Sarah’s charity is a non-profit ministry of St. Mark’s United Methodist Church in Daleville. All donations are tax deductible.

For further information, contact Sarah or her mom, Ann-Marie Hamblin, at 992-6092. Sarah thanks the people of Botetourt County and the Roanoke Valley for their continued support of her charity.