California Church Serves the “Least of These” at Christmas

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At this time of year, churches often serve people who are hungry or “strangers” or those who are ailing. But what about prisoners? One California church works with Angel Tree Ministry, a program of Prison Fellowship, to be reminded of the true meaning of the season. Almond Valley Christian Reformed Church in Ripon, Calif., helps parents who are incarcerated provide a Christmas gift to their children.

The church has been involved with the program for nearly 10 years. All year long, members of the church serve the needs of local children whose parents are serving time. In the fall, the Angel Tree organization sends the church a list of names. Usually the Almond Valley group takes on 30 names, but there is always more need. Vivian Schuller, coordinator of the Angel Tree program at the church, said, “Last year I kept getting calls from the area coordinator to take more names. I actually had to turn her down for over 100 names after already taking on a couple of last-minute ones.”

The coordinator contacts the child’s caregivers to see if they want to participate. “Some caregivers don’t want the incarcerated parent to have any contact with the child. Others are grateful for any type of gift and are so appreciative,” said Schuller. The church asks caregivers for gift ideas and clothing needs/sizes. Each child receives a fun gift and a needed clothing item.

Schuller hangs tags containing the gift ideas and sizes on the “Angel Tree” set up in the church. Church members take the tags from the tree, shop for the child, and return the wrapped and labeled gift to church the week before Christmas. A message from the incarcerated parent is included. Volunteers from the church deliver the gifts to the children during Christmas week. The whole church gets involved, from organizing to shopping to delivering. “High school kids, young couples, young families, young adults, and retired couples and individuals have all taken turns delivering,” said Schuller.

While it might be the only gift a child receives at Christmas, sometimes the greatest treasure is the written message from the incarcerated parent that accompanies each gift.  

About the Author

Heidi Wicker is a freelance writer.

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