Sarah Hamblin with some of the Easter basket supplies she purchased with monetary donations to her charity.
Members of Church of the Transfiguration’s Circle of Mary women’s group in Fincastle built 60 baskets for Operation: Easter Bunny in mid-March.
Sarah Hamblin (second from right) and friends during their Easter basket building day. The girls built over 100 baskets in one afternoon from supplies purchased from the monetary donations to Operation: Easter Bunny.

Looking around Sarah Hamblin’s home this Easter, you would think the Easter Bunny made a huge mistake.

Last week, Easter baskets filled every portion of her home leaving narrow paths for walking through several sections of the house. But it wasn’t a mistake. It was exactly what Sarah had hoped would happen.

Eight years ago Sarah founded her charity, Operation: Easter Bunny, as a way to provide Easter baskets to children who would not otherwise receive one during Easter. Now, the Central Academy Middle School seventh grader can’t wait each year for Easter to arrive. She says even though it is a lot of work to run the charity, seeing the children’s faces when they receive an Easter basket makes it all worthwhile.

Sarah started her charity when, for her fifth birthday, she asked her friends, family and neighbors to bring her an Easter basket instead of a birthday gift. She received 30 baskets that first year in 2009, which she handed out at the Botetourt Food Pantry. Now eight years later, Operation: Easter Bunny has grown into a Roanoke Valley-wide operation with children throughout the valley benefiting from her charity.

Last year, she collected a record 187 Easter baskets. When it came time to set a goal for this year, she hoped to finally reach the 200 mark, but decided that was a lot to ask for and set her sights on a more conservative goal of 180. As of early April, she had collected 363 Easter baskets, more than twice her goal.

She attributes the huge number of Easter baskets this year to substantial coverage by the local news media, and to a number of groups in the Roanoke Valley that made baskets for her charity, including the Circle of Mary Women’s Group at Church of the Transfiguration in Fincastle, the Greene Memorial United Methodist Women in downtown Roanoke and the staff at HSN (Home Shopping Network) in Blue Ridge.

Sarah and her friends spent one Sunday afternoon in March creating over 100 baskets from supplies purchased with monetary donations to the charity. The baskets included a group of custom baskets for the children in Carilion Roanoke Children’s Hospital and special baskets for the girls at Appalachian Teen Challenge in Fincastle. They also worked together the first weekend in April to check and sort all the Easter baskets and fill the requests from all the schools and organizations.

In Botetourt County, Sarah’s record number of Easter baskets meant every child in the Backpack Buddies programs in all the Botetourt County elementary schools received an Easter basket, as well as the children served by the Botetourt Resource Center, Botetourt Food Pantry and the girls at Teen Challenge. Sarah continues to hand out the Easter baskets herself at the Botetourt Food Pantry each year.

In Roanoke County, children in three elementary schools, Bonsack, Herman L. Horn and W.E. Cundiff, will be receiving Easter baskets. The week before Easter, Sarah will be personally delivering baskets to all the children in Carilion Roanoke Children’s Hospital, Salvation Army’s Turning Point Shelter for Abused Women, and all the children of adults currently in the recovery program at the Roanoke Rescue Mission.

Sarah’s parents recognize that next year they will probably need more space and have plans to convert their two-car garage into a temporary warehouse to house all the baskets. Sarah’s wish for next year? She hopes a local car dealership will loan her a van to help with the Easter basket deliveries, since some of the deliveries are too large to fit in her mom’s vehicle. Sarah says that’s a good problem to have to solve.