As part of a tradition that's grown every year, Willow Creek Community Church members spent their Sunday morning filling bags for Christmas care packages that will be distributed to the 70,000 men and women living in Illinois' state prisons.
"This year we set the goal of putting a gift into the hands of every prisoner in the state of Illinois by packing 70,000 gift packs," Heather Larson, executive pastor of Willow Creek Community Church, told The Christian Post on Monday.
"For the last two years, the Willow Creek Care Center provided Christmas prison packs to 20,000 inmates (2013), and 32,000 (2014), inmates in Illinois. After receiving hundreds of letters from prisoners it was clear that we needed to do more," Larson said.
Each care package delivered to the Illinois Department of Corrections for the prison population includes three Krispy Kreme treats, a year-long inspirational journal, a copy of the book Wonderlife, a correspondence booklet titled Jonah, and a Christmas greeting card.
"We take the words of Hebrews 13:3 to 'remember the prisoner' and believe that God can do something extraordinary through something as simple as a paper bag filled with some tangible reminders of God's love," Larson explained CP.
"A group of volunteers from our church have been faithfully serving in prisons across Illinois for decades, and in recent years as our senior pastors and staff have gotten involved, the passion grew to include our entire church in the efforts.
"During the Christmas season there are many great programs and outreach opportunities to work with families, children, and the less fortunate, and our church has felt a burden to remember some of society's most forgotten during the Christmas season: prisoners."
Willow Creek's efforts were very much church-centered, with volunteers and funding for the care packages coming from the congregation, according to The Chicago Tribune.
"Attendees at weekend services, youth classes and Spanish-language services all participated in the packing effort," the Tribune reported. "At the church's care center, men and women, and young and old stuffed the packages assembly-line style, handing them to another member who loaded them into giant stacks of boxes."
The Tribune further noted that all the items were preapproved for distribution by state prison officials; federal inmates were not allowed to receive the packages.