Fort Smith church donates gifts to children of inmates
FORT SMITH, Ark. (AP) — Community Bible Church’s partnership with Angel Tree in recent years has reached new heights in giving the children of federal prisoners a merry Christmas.
Salvation Army’s Angel Tree program each holiday season provides a way for children in need across the United States to receive Christmas presents. Though the geographic footprint of the Community Bible Angel Tree partnership shrunk significantly this year, it will provide over 470 children of federal prisoners with presents this year, said Community Bible Angel Tree coordinator Anna Layne.
“This year, our numbers are higher than any other year for children served,” Layne told the Southwest Times Record .
Angel Tree members each year reach out to chaplains and inmates in federal prisons and ask them if they want to participate in Community Bible’s program, Layne said. If the inmate chooses to sign up his or her children for the program, they are approved by the child or children’s caregiver, Layne said.
The children, or “angels,” are then “adopted” by people who buy them presents, Layne said.
“This is different than other Angel Trees because this is from the parent,” Layne said. “We’ve heard kids say, ‘Oh my gosh, look at what my dad got me. How did he know I wanted this?’”
Community Bible first partnered with Angel Tree 20 years ago “by accident,” said founding pastor Ed Saucier. He said the church staff at that time used a hotel to host Sunday services, which conflicted with Salvation Army’s plans to use the facility to host their Angel Tree event.
Instead of fighting over space, the staff that year helped Salvation Army with the event.
“The following year, they contacted us and asked if we would be willing to host,” Saucier said.
Community Bible’s Angel Tree partnership in 2017 served families of federal inmates in 11 counties, including Sebastian, Crawford, LeFlore, Adair, Logan and Franklin counties. It was the largest geographic footprint of any Angel Tree partnership that year, Layne said.
Though the area has narrowed down to Sebastian and Crawford counties, Layne said she is pleased with this year’s numbers.
“What’s happening is the inmates are reaching out to their children,” Layne said. “This is the first year that Sebastian County inmates are really trying to do it.”
Over $23,000 this year is spent on the presents, which will fill the Community Bible lobby, Layne said. She also said the volunteers that evening will treat the families of the Angel Tree recipients to a dinner at the church. The families will also be provided with groceries for a Christmas dinner and photos with Santa Claus to send to the incarcerated parent if they wish, Layne said.
“The heavy lifting in Angel Tree is done almost entirely by volunteers and has been since day one,” Saucier said. “We help them, we’re all involved as guys and gals who work here, but they do it, and they take it seriously.”
Volunteers will bring Christmas to the families who can’t make the dinner, Saucier said.
“We’ve had people drive hundreds of miles to do it,” he said. “They do it year after year, and they show no signs of slowing down.”
Saucier said he is pleased with the Angel Tree partnership.
“It speaks to us as a congregation of people who enjoy doing things like that, but it also speaks to us as a congregation who understands that we are all flawed and imperfect people,” he said.
Information from: Southwest Times Record, http://www.swtimes.com/