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Angel Tree program needs holiday help for kids with incarcerated parents

Prison Fellowship Angel Tree

Interview with Director of the Prison Fellowship Angel Tree program

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — As Christmas draws closer, urgency grows for an effort aimed at helping children whose mothers or fathers cannot gather around the tree with them.

Organizers of the Prison Fellowship Angel Tree Program say they need help quickly. “We have more than 1,800 children we weren’t able to match with a church,” Betsy Wright, director of the program, said.

The organization serves children who have a parent in prison or jail, and works to make sure the child has gifts to open on behalf of the parent who won’t be with them Christmas morning.

Wright visited WISH-TV’s Daybreak to explain the program’s goals and ask for more support. “To remember these kids that are often forgotten, because talking about incarceration is a bit of a stigma, and we don’t do it very often.”

According to estimates from the state, around 180,000 children in Indiana have had a parent in custody at some point in their lives. Wright says parental incarceration affects one out of every 49 children in the state.

“We know a main factor in mental health is the child/parent bond,” Wright said. She says the Christmas presents through the program can be a critical link to maintaining that bond.

“It can be life-changing for these kids, because often it’s hard to communicate with a parent who’s incarcerated,” she added. “It’s hard to visit. So when they get that gift, it’s ‘Dad remembers me or Mom remembers me, they love me.’ Often the kids keep those little tags with the message year after year and they store them because they mean so much.”

The program works year-round, providing children with opportunities for summer or sports camps and other activities. The Christmas effort is the highest-profile push, working with churches in various communities to connect families with gifts.

Anyone interested in donating can select a child through a ‘virtual’ Angel Tree and read the parent’s message to them here.