Secret Santas, toy drives and other gift-giving efforts in the spirit of Christmas will look a lot different this year.
For more than 25 years, Second Baptist Church in Richmond Heights has participated in an annual gift-giving initiative through Prison Fellowship’s Angel Tree program. The Angel Tree giveaway allows local churches to provide Christmas gifts to children with incarcerated parents.
Senior pastor Alphonso Jackson Sr. and his congregants are holding their annual Angel Tree giveaway in the shadow of the pandemic this year.
Prison Fellowship is one of the largest Christian nonprofit organizations in the country with a mission focused on serving those affected by crime and incarceration. Created in 1976, it follows three tenets in interacting with communities impacted by incarceration: transforming the lives of prisoners, caring for children and families, and advocating for restorative justice.
The Angel Tree program, which has been running for nearly three decades, is an extension of the organization’s approach to caring for children and families. It allows churches and people from the community to join the effort of spreading joy to children ranging from birth to age 17 during the holidays.
Second Baptist Church is accepting Angel Tree donations at its Learning Center until Dec. 12. The church’s Favored Ministry is responsible for the execution of the program on a local level. After receiving a list of names from national Angel Tree staff, they go into high gear to make children’s holiday gift wishes come true.
In years past, a Christmas tree was placed inside the church and decorated with paper angels bearing the names of at least 100 children, along with short bios and wish lists of the items they hoped to receive. Each Sunday over the course of a month, church members would select an angel from the tree and purchase the gifts listed. A closing ceremony would then follow, during which gifts were distributed to selected children in person. Given current pandemic restrictions, approximately 100 children from North Kendall to Florida City with an incarcerated parent will receive mailed gift cards instead.
“COVID-19 should not stop ministry. All the angels were taken again this year,” said Alphonso Jackson Sr., the church’s senior pastor. “It was our way of blessing the families. Those kids were looking at a dreary Christmas.”
Instead of the usual angel tree method, children were matched to church members through a phone tree system. Jackson mentioned that the genuine appreciation and letters of gratitude that church members receive from the children and their families makes the effort that much more worthwhile.
The Second Baptist Church is also helping the community with food distribution drives every Saturday from 3 – 5 p.m. for the next two months.