Helping prisoners to keep in contact with their families over Christmas
Angel Tree, a project run by the Prison Fellowship charity, helps prisoners to maintain their relationship with their families by giving them the chance to choose Christmas presents for their children. The programme will deliver more than 5,000 gifts this Christmas to the children of prisoners in England and Wales.
At St Barnabas in north Finchley, the church’s prisons mission community has overseen the delivery of 260 presents for Angel Tree to be distributed to the children of prisoners in Pentonville, Swaleside, Grendon and Springhill prisons. Forms are distributed in prisons, often through chaplaincies, inviting prisoners, as long as they are allowed access to their children, to request a present worth up to £15 for a child or children. On each form, alongside details of a child’s name, age and gender, there is a space for a message from the prisoner. ‘We have seen forms where they even have the catalogue number from the toy shop – so they have really done their research, or a family has done their research,” said Wendy, who coordinates the work at St Barnabas. “Then there are other families where they know their children a little less well and don’t specify anything.’ At St Barnabas, fundraising starts as soon as the forms are delivered. ‘In order to raise the funds we hold events like coffee mornings, we also approach friends and colleagues and family to ask whether they would like to buy a gift,’ she said. The group meets for a mass present wrapping session before the gifts are dispatched by post. “We wrap the present twice – first of all in Christmas wrapping paper and then in brown paper. Then for each child, unless the application says they don’t want this, we put in a book from the Prison Fellowship. If we know that there is more than one child in a family receiving a gift, we make sure that the presents are all ready before they are sent.’ Feed back forms are sent out with the presents to families with a stamped addressed envelope. Prisoners who are successful applicants for the scheme are sent a feedback form with a Christmas card letting them know what has been bought and sent. ‘Every year, it is heartbreaking to read some of the remarks,” Wendy said. “One that stays in my mind is a grandmother who was looking after grandchildren both of whose parents were in prison. She said she had struggled on a pension to buy presents for her grandchildren and she really appreciated the programme.”
Martha Linden, CofE communications department
There are around 200,000 children in England and Wales with a parent in prison. To find out more about Angel Tree see http://www.prisonfellowship.org.uk/what-we-do/angel-tree/