The sparkling ribbon on beautifully wrapped packages shimmered beneath the twinkling lights of the Christmas tree. The vision before everyone was one of splendor.
Yet, nothing compared to the vibrant, toothy smiles plastered to every single child’s face at Saturday’s Angel Tree Christmas Party at Logansport Church, 2405 Shadowlawn Drive. As part of the Prison Fellowship program, Angel Tree provides Christmas gifts to children whose parents remain behind bars. More than 30 children with incarcerated parents attended this year’s festivities.
Michael Osborn, pastor, said that prior to the event, tags hang on the church’s Christmas tree. Congregation members grab one or two, buy needed items, such as clothing or toys, and provide the wrapped gifts for distribution. This year, the church provided enough gifts that each child received two presents.
On each gift is a specialized note from the child’s parent.
It’s a way for the incarcerated parent to “buy” a gift for his or her child, said Anne Edwards, Angel Tree coordinator. The church members never take credit for a single purchase. It’s all from the parents of the children.
This year has been especially difficult for these kids, said Edwards, because with COVID, they have not been permitted to visit their moms or dads in jail. For some, it goes a bit beyond that, she explained. For instance, she said, one child’s parent is doing time in a California-based prison, which means that child doesn’t have the option to see the parent, even if COVID had not halted visitation opportunities.
“It’s no fault of the children,” she said. “And some of these kids may not be financially needy, but they’re needy for love.”
And that’s what this program provides. Angel Tree is a Prison Fellowship program that uses a network of volunteers to “deliver a gift, the Gospel, and a personal message of love to children on behalf of their mom or dad in prison,” according to its website.
Logansport Church has been a partner for the last few years and typically has more than 60 children participate in its Christmas Party. However, COVID prevented some youngsters from being able to participate in this year’s gathering.
But for those who showed up to see Santa Claus, enjoy some refreshments, and – of course – get a special gift, it was a day of fun and excitement.
Charlie Brown, 6, arrived holding the hand of his grandmother, Renee Martin.
The pair from Logansport spent the morning getting their picture taken with Santa – and petitioning Saint Nick to take Brown back to the North Pole with him – decorating cookies to leave out Christmas Eve and, among other things, leaving with wrapped gifts and a stocking filled to the brim.
“I asked Santa for a real T-rex,” he said, adding that his favorite part was decorating the cookies to leave out for Santa.
“When I get to the car and go home, I’m going to open this,” Brown said, gesturing to the wrapped gift he received.
Much like Brown, 4-year-old Rylan Showley also was looking for a T-rex under his tree this year. He also enjoyed decorating the cookies in preparation for the arrival of Santa.
Showley was accompanied by his mom, Heather, who couldn’t help but appreciate the day’s celebration. Simply put, the 31-year-old said, “I loved it and he really enjoyed it, so it’s good. He likes seeing Santa Claus.”
Knowing that children are enjoying the Christmas season resonates with those who volunteer. “I can’t explain what this means to me,” said Pastor Osborn.
According to a 2020 report by the Indiana Youth Institute, a nonprofit based in Indianapolis, more than 10% of children in Indiana have a parent who has served time in jail – compared to 7.4 % nationally.
“Just to see the joy on their faces and for them to know that Mom or Dad still cares enough to send a gift … it’s just amazing,” said Pastor Osborn.
Echoing his sentiments, Edwards said this program not only gives the children something to look forward to, “it gives us some hope as well.”