There are approximately 1.7 million children with a parent in prison, and through the Angel Tree program some of those children can receive a Christmas present from their parent behind a prison cell.
Angel Tree is a charity that's under the Prison Fellowship ministry. Their main focus is to reconnect parents in prison with their children through the delivery of a Christmas gift.
Through the program, incarcerated parents can apply for help by sending a gift to their children. The request goes to different partner churches across the nation where church members sponsor a child by purchasing gifts. Finally, the gift is delivered to the child with a personal note from the parent.
Through the charity a lot of imprisoned parents have had the opportunity to reconnect with their child.
Chris Cleveland was sentenced for drug use and crime in 2002. While in the Metropolitan Detention Center in Albuquerque, N.M., he was very doubtful that he could have a relationship with his son. He spoke to him only about once a year. With hesitation and doubt, he decided to apply to Angel Tree and one day in December after Christmas he received a phone call from his son.
Through the gift his then 8-year son received, the two had something they could talk about – basketball – and from then they were able to develop a loving relationship, even while Cleveland was still in prison.
"All Christopher could talk about was his basketball," Cleveland recalled. "All of the expensive things that I gave to him when I was a mess weren't important to him, but that basketball from Angel Tree gave him hope."
Previously, during his drug use period, he had bought his son lavish gifts purchased with stolen credit cards to compensate for the constant moving and the volatile confrontations he had with his wife.
"When he received that gift, it gave him a whole new spark of hope that maybe his dad might someday be back in his life, and not only that but that he could have a relationship with a real loving father," said Cleveland to The Christian Post.
When Cleveland was later released in 2006, he was able to reintegrate back into the community through the biblical principles that Prison Fellowship taught him. He was even able to found his own ministry, New Path Ministry, which supports ex-offenders with re-entry tools. And today, he boasts of a strong bond with his 16-year-old son.
This year, the two are volunteering through their church to purchase and distribute Angel Tree gifts in their community.
In addition to connecting parents to their children, Prison Fellowship also provides the opportunity for inmates to reconcile with God and give back to the ministry. Angel Tree has helped about 8.6 million children since 1976. It has expanded to 113 countries in addition to the United States.
On the Web: www.angeltree.org