“What did you get for Christmas?” Ida asked. Ida was an elementary school teacher and she was following the tradition of teachers everywhere, asking her pupils about their Christmas vacation.
Each child stood up and rattled off a list of toys and gifts. But one little girl stood up, her chin quivering, and whispered, “I didn’t get anything this year. But we went to Tutweiler to see my Mama.”
Tutweiler-it was the name of a women’s prison in the area. Suddenly Ida realized how cruel the classroom activity was that exposed this little girl to such humiliation. How could she undo the damage she had done?
Ida decided she would participate in Angel Tree®.
Sponsored by Prison Fellowship, Angel Tree mobilizes volunteers to distribute Christmas gifts to children of prison inmates. Churches and other Christian groups in all 50 states participate.
The program is simple: Prison Fellowship works with local prison authorities to compile a list of fathers and mothers behind bars who want their children to be recipients. Angel-shaped ornaments are sent to every participating group.
Volunteers write the children’s names on the ornaments and hang them on a Christmas tree. Anyone who wants to participate takes an ornament off the tree and purchases a gift for that child.
No child should ever have to say, I didn’t get anything for Christmas because my mom or my dad is in prison. With the help of volunteers across the nation, Angel Tree puts presents under the tree on behalf of the parent who is behind bars and in Jesus’ name.
Here at Prison Fellowship we hear from volunteers all the time who tell us that Angel Tree has become the highlight of their own Christmas-the joy of seeing little faces light up with unexpected delight.
And Angel Tree isn’t just for Christmas any more, either. For some volunteers, Angel Tree turns out to be the beginning of a beautiful friendship. Once they see how hard life is for children when Dad or Mom is behind bars, many Christians find they cannot just walk away when the holiday season ends.
They find ways to keep up the relationship year-round: asking the family to church, offering to drive them to prison visits, tutoring, or arranging summer outings. In our church we hold an Easter party for Angel Tree kids.
Angel Tree can even be a factor in diverting a child from a life of crime. Studies have shown that “children of inmates are more likely to land in prison than the general population,” says Mark Morgan, national Angel Tree coordinator. But Angel Tree-especially when it is a year-round ministry-provides a positive experience that can help reduce the likelihood that children of inmates will follow in their parents’ footsteps.
Prisoners’ children are often the saddest casualties of crime. They are separated from one or both of their parents, often passed among relatives or placed in foster care.
Angel Tree is a way to care for “the least of these” victims of crime. Call us at “BreakPoint” and we’ll give you information on how your church or group can participate in Angel Tree.
For Christmas-and for the whole year.