A few days ago, Chris Smith, 65, of Mount Ephraim got an urgent text from her niece, Adriana DiEva, 8, of Cherry Hill. There was an egg drop Saturday morning, and Adriana had to be there.

"I said, 'Do you mean an egg hunt?' I never heard of an egg drop," Smith said. "Egg drop, to me, is soup - not eggs coming out of the sky."

But that's what was in store Saturday, when they arrived at Joyce Kilmer Elementary School in Cherry Hill to the buzz of surveillance drones overhead and the sight of another drone, loaded with pastel eggs, parked in wait.

More than 800 people showed up for the region's first drone-powered Easter egg hunt, hosted by Impacting Your World Christian Center, a church with locations in Cherry Hill and Philadelphia's Germantown section.

In the competitive world of Easter egg hunts - in South Jersey on Saturday morning alone, options included an egg-dropping crop duster in Swedesboro and a 50,000-egg extravaganza at Cherry Hill High School West - pastor Ray Barnard was aiming high.

"We're bringing things into the 21st century," he said, "just looking at more innovative and creative ways to do the same things we've always done."

So, he looked to Damian "Skipper" Pitts, an active church member who also happens to be the chief executive of Flexright Solutions, a Fort Washington company that trains drone operators. Pitts took the idea to his team, which includes a physicist, a mechanical engineer, and retired military personnel.

"We had to figure out: Can we do this? How?" he said. "We started looking at fire-retardant planes that drop water on forest fires."

Pitts bought a $1,900 octocopter, so called because it's powered by eight propellers. His crew built a cargo hold out of netting and PVC pipe, with a 500-egg capacity and a trap door underneath.

They tested it with weights, and later with candy-filled plastic eggs. It had to stand up to the demands of two egg hunts, one for each of Impacting Your World's locations.

"When we did the demo, it was like, 'Yeah, that's going to be awesome,' " Flexright chief technology officer Guy Dunn said.

By 10:30 a.m. Saturday, church volunteers had seeded the field with a few thousand eggs, and the drone was loaded for its first mission.

Charlene Fessler of Cherry Hill took Ryder Richardson, 4, aside for a serious talk.

"This is a family secret. I taught it to my kids and now I'm teaching it to my grandson," she said. "Never stop at the first egg. Keep going until you get to the middle."

Kids watched the drone with fierce concentration, inching forward in defiance of red boundary flags and the warnings of event security staff.

Then, the octocopter took off, rising into the air and laying 500 eggs in about a minute. Children (a few of whom gleefully shrieked, "It's pooping!") raced to scramble for candy.

"It was mobbed - like Black Friday," said Patrick Pope, 9, of Collingswood, jogging back to the edge of the field to await the drone's second run.

Only this time, it was still overhead when a false start sent the entire herd of kids dashing into a hailstorm of eggs and candy.

The church's head of security, John Montgomery, shrugged and shook his head.

"Children are going to do their thing," he said.

Most of the attendees, he said, were not church members.

But announcements read over a loudspeaker invited them to return Sunday for Easter services.

"It's definitely about the engagement," said Barnard, the pastor. "It's our idea of being able to attract people, taking the Gospel and finding new ways to reach people with it. That's our approach: Use bait to catch fish."

It lured Erik Costanzo, 40, and his son Evan, 9, all the way from Somerdale, about 20 minutes away. They agreed the drones were worth traveling for.

In fact, Evan said, as far as Easter egg delivery methods, drones beat bunnies hands down.

Though, he added, "If the Easter Bunny was flying it, that would be cool."

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@samanthamelamed