Prisoner's Kid Brings Christmas Compassion Full-Circle This Year

Eleven-year-old Emily Starling-Dickerson was inspired to bring presents to another child after having received gifts for the past four years from Prison Ministries’ Angel Tree program.

When Emily was just 8-years-old, her father was far away in a state prison in Amarillo, and she didn’t expect to have a merry Christmas. But due to the generosity of a family from a nearby church, Emily and her two siblings received Christmas presents in the name of their dad through Prison Fellowship’s Angel Tree program.

“It was just shocking to me to actually get Christmas presents from my dad,” said Emily, a sixth-grader at Barbara Bush Middle School. “I was feeling so sad that I couldn’t celebrate Christmas with him, and then out of the blue somebody called and asked if they could come by for a visit and bring us presents from our dad. How cool was that?”

Her father’s recent release from prison will enable her to enjoy this Christmas together, and now she wants to help another prisoner’s child stay connected to her inmate parent this Christmas.

“Kids of prisoners need help while their mom or dad is away so that they know they’re still loved,” added Emily. “I can’t wait to deliver these presents and help someone else be happy this Christmas even though her mom isn’t with her this year.”

Incarcerated parents wishing to give gifts to their children for Christmas must fill out an application with the prison’s chaplain. Each application is then hung on an “Angel Tree” at a local church. Church-goers wishing to participate can pick up one of these applications from their church’s tree, buy a gift for that child listed, and then deliver it to their home.

Last year, more than half a million children received a piece of clothing or a toy from the program.

Studies show that prisoners’ children are the most at-risk youth in America. They are at a greater risk for child abuse, illiteracy, crime, teen pregnancy, depression, and addiction. And they are five times more likely to end up in prison themselves, according to U.S. News & World Report in April 2002.

Christmas is an especially difficult time for them, but through the program many feel their parent’s and God's love. It is America's only effort to assist children whose parents are behind bars.

On Dec. 17, leather-clad motorcycle bikers will rally at Irving Bible Church with hundreds of church volunteers to take the role of Santa for 500 children. The Harley-riding bikers from Fellowship Riders, a Dallas-based national non-profit organization, most recently joined the effort to deliver gifts to children of inmates through affiliates across the country, according to Prison Fellowship.

Emily Starling-Dickerson and her father, William Starling, will speak, along with Prison Fellowship President Mark Earley, Fellowship Riders President Jeff Means, and Fellowship Riders bikers from Irving, Dallas, Lewisville, and Plano, Texas.

Since 1982, Prison Fellowship’s Angel Tree program has reached out as the only nationwide effort to exclusively assist children whose fathers or mothers are behind bars. Since the program’s inception, 7.5 million children of prisoners have received some 14 million Angel Tree gifts nationwide.