Yesterday was our (Joni and Friends Greater Philadelphia and Rockhill Mennonite Church) Easter Egg Hunt.  If not the slowest Easter Egg Hunt in history, it has to be in the top 10.  I absolutely LOVE this day.

I think it was about 10 or 12 years ago when one of our friends came to us and said that her kids with disabilities couldn’t participate in the typical community easter egg hints with their older sisters because the kids just moved too fast, and it was more frustrating than fun.  She asked if we could do something different.  I had just read about a group in Texas that did a special needs Easter Egg Hunt.  So I contacted them and asked the mom to ask her church if they would like to partner with us on the is venture and they did – and the first Easter Egg Hunt for kids with disabilities (at least in our area) began.

I think that first year we had about 10 kids and 5 volunteers and probably put out about 100 eggs.  We had vehicles parked around the church parking lot with eggs on running boards, fenders, etc. so kids could reach them.  I remember one young man brought his grabbers to reach the eggs and shared it with others too.  What a difference – working together and helping each other get eggs rather than running the slow people over and rushing to get as many eggs as possible!

Over the years the hunt grew, and we outgrew the church.  Some of my favorite memories from those early years:

  • the two families who met for the first time and realized they had no family or plans for the next day – Easter.  They joined forces, shared Easter Day and dinner together and became fast friends from that day forward.
  • the boy scouts who helped (always motivated by a case of Yoohoo!) and if kids couldn’t pick up eggs the scouts would, or would even go around with “extra eggs” and deliver to those who couldn’t get to any eggs on their own!
  • the family who pulled in just about the time we were wrapping up.  It was their first year coming, and the variables of their two children with autism made it difficult to get out of the house on time.  They were so sad that they arrived too late.  As a couple of us talked with them at the car others went downstairs in the churn and put together two baskets from “extras” found and delivered them through the car windows.  That was our one and only “drive through” easter egg hunt.  
Yesterday we had about 75-80 families, and about 250 people all told.  The event now runs about 2 hours.  Knowing the challenges of families with disability getting places “on time” the first hour is filled with visits with the Easter Bunny, carnival type games, face painting, swings, ball pits, parachutes, etc.  There’s always a quiet room for those who can’t deal with all the stimulation.  Families come in as they are able to get there.    We then move to the auditorium so “the Easter Bunny can clean up and hide the eggs!” and have a period of entertainment with a purpose (yesterday it was magician Troydini; other years we’ve done music, stories, puppet shows, etc.).  We give away a few door prizes and then release the anxious kids (of ALL ages) to get their eggs.  
First the kids with mobility needs go first – then once they are on their way the others are dismissed.  Talking about eggs being “hidden” is not really accurate.  We put out about 5000 eggs (filled by scores of volunteers!) in plain sight (leaving wheelchair pathways) at a variety of heights.  Some may be a little harder to find and get – but no one leaves without an abundance of treats and toys.  
Some of my favorite memories from recent years:
  • the many new families we are getting to meet since we moved to a larger venue
  • the abundance of volunteers – both wanting to donate candy, fill eggs and help that day
  • the way parents enjoy their time there – not just watching their kids, but connecting with other families, and encouraging one another
  • the mom who drove nearly 3 hours with her 3 sons on the autism spectrum because it was closest Easter Egg Hunt she could find in which her kids could participate 
  • the smiles – that go from ear to ear on kids as they hug the Easter Bunny, or get their face painted
  • the family who came this year, but couldn’t stay the entire time, but said it was ok because grandmom just wanted her daughter to see she didn’t have to walk this road alone, that there is community within disability.  

Really my favorite part – the reality and picture of what Easter is really about . . . we come with nothing (empty bags, baskets and lives) to the One who gave His very life for us in an act of forgiveness and rose again so we could live redeemed lives full of abundance and blessing because of Jesus’ free gift to us!