Angels in Edmond
This Christmas, eighty-five families in Edmond and the surrounding area will receive help from Angel Tree, a nationwide program sponsored by Prison Fellowship. These eighty-five families represent 175 children who have at least one parent incarcerated. Angel Tree children receive Christmas gifts from families and sponsors in behalf of their parent.
Barbara Green began working with Angel Tree in 1983. “Back then, I did all the calling to confirm the children’s ages, size of clothing, and things like that. Now we have twelve family coordinators and each one calls six or seven Angel Tree families,” said Barbara. Her two daughters, Nancy Wood and Melissa Rich, help with the coordination.
A former missionary, pastor’s wife and counselor, Barbara ministers in the Mabel Basset Women’s Prison. “I read a book about a woman on death row. At first, after I read the book, I thought I wouldn’t go into a prison," said Green. "Then I contacted the Chaplain at MBCC to inquire about corresponding with an inmate."
The Chaplain was starting a Volunteer Chaplain's program and asked if Green would be interested. "Initially the thought was frightening, but after prayerful consideration, I agreed. After serving twenty-two years volunteering in a maximum-security penitentiary, Green says, "I have learned that God knows exactly what He's doing and that His timing is perfect. I’ve never looked back. I feel as at home in prison as I do in church.”
Green states that when she first started to volunteer, she kept looking over her shoulder when I walked the Yard. Gradually the women warmed up to her, partly because they knew she wasn’t getting paid for it.
"Now they call me ‘Chaplain’ or ‘Grandma,’" said Green. “I’ve taught twenty-two parenting classes with about twenty-five in each class. Many are court mandated, but most of the women are appreciative and teachable. At the end of the six-week video series, ‘Homes of Honor-Parenting,’ I award diplomas. Teaching parenting skills to prisoners is very rewarding.”
Green says the women she ministers to worry about their kids, especially their boys, because of gangs and drugs. Opportunities to talk to women come up because of Angel Tree.
“I’m helping their kids, so they listen to me. It’s a natural connection,” said Green.
Deborah’s kids have received Angel Tree gifts for five years. Their father is in prison, serving a long sentence. They visit him every other week. The children, ages 6, 10, and 16 look forward to Angel Tree time. A coordinator telephoned Deborah, and then a generous family volunteered to be her sponsor. The sponsor family purchased new gifts for Deborah’s children, buying at least one item of clothing and one toy for each.
“I really appreciate the help,” said Deborah.
“Children are the most responsive,” said Green. “Kids are always happy to get gifts, but especially from a parent who is not around. They want to know if their parent thought about them; if they remembered.”
Angel Tree applications are distributed through the Chaplain’s office as early as August. Only children are involved, not grandchildren, nieces or nephews. The prisoner chooses special gifts for each child. He or she also sends a personal message, such as, "I love you, from Dad."
One man in prison wrote, “Dear Angel Tree, if you could please help my child receive something in my behalf, I would be very grateful. I haven’t been able to give her anything for four years and I still have nine years left. She is very beautiful and it’s not her fault her father is a loser. I love her dearly.”
Green says many people break down and cry when they talk about their children. “Although most prisoners have the opportunity to talk to their children and write or have visitation, some don’t have contact with their child any time except at Christmas.”
Children are innocent victims of crimes, the most at-risk kids in the nation and the average age is eight. Angel Tree provides Christmas presents for nearly 500,000 children in the U.S. each year. Almost 7.5 million children have a parent in some form of correctional institution.
Christmas gifts are delivered directly to the children along with the incarcerated parent’s message. Messages of love and concern are as important as gifts. Volunteers also deliver a bag of groceries and gift bags, which include hot cocoa, coffee mugs and candy canes. They also give gifts to the caregivers, many of whom are grandparents.
A new goal for Angel Tree is to connect Angel Tree families with their sponsors throughout the year. “We can give the sponsor the child’s birth date so they can buy a present for them. And maybe invite them to church programs, children’s camp, or Vacation Bible School.”
“It’s great to have your family working together on something like this.” The rewards are great and as Barbara Green and her daughters can attest to, “the taste of ministry is sweet.”
For more information see AngelTree.org.
Angel Tree is supported by Prison Fellowship and statistics are taken from PrisonFellowhip.org. Chosen gifts can now be ordered online.