The holidays can be lonely and stressful for those behind bars so one local church group is working to spread Christmas joy and keep incarcerated parents connected to their children.
For the past five years, the Unity Baptist Church of Red Deer has been taking part in the national Angel Tree Christmas Program, an initiative with Prison Fellowship Canada.
Angel Tree operates mainly in partnerships with churches across Canada to help reach out to the children of parents serving time.
Inmates submit an application on behalf of their children with gift suggestions and a personal message. Volunteers then purchase the gifts and deliver them to the children just in time for Christmas.
According to Prison Fellowship Canada, there are more than 350,000 Canadian children under the age of 18 who have parents in prison or ex-offender parents.
“It’s a hard time around Christmas for those in prison. They have children and families and they can’t do much for them,” said Joel Cadieux, an Angel Tree volunteer with Unity Baptist.
Cadieux and his wife Sandra spurred the Angel Tree program on in their church — the only program in Central Alberta — after Cadieux began volunteering with the inmates at Bowden Institution and he saw first hand how trying the holiday season was for them.
The church budgets about $2,000 a year for Angel Tree and has seen such overwhelming support that they are able to deliver presents not only to children in Central Alberta but also some in Edmonton.
“The church has been so generous and so we take gifts to roughly 50 kids each Christmas. Between Red Deer, Hobbema and Rocky Mountain House — and really all of Central Alberta — there was only about 10 kids on the Angel Tree program so we asked the Fellowship for more names,” Cadieux said. “Now we see about 35 kids in Edmonton as well those in Central Alberta.”
All the costs and time that go into purchasing presents, wrapping and travelling to deliver them are 100 per cent volunteer based and funded by the church as well as individuals.
Cadieux said about 35 Unity Baptist Church members volunteer with Angel Tree.
“These kids are caught in the middle. They have no fault in their parents’ incarceration and Christmas is hard without your parents. It’s great to bridge that gap and the parents feel like they’re doing something, that they’re connected with their kids.”
Gifts are delivered to children up to the age of 18 and even to expecting mothers, Cadieux said.
“There was one little guy who was so excited when we showed up and he just yelled, ‘That’s from my Dad!’ We’ve had nothing but great responses and the caregivers of these children are all super appreciative.”
Anyone who wants to get involved with Angel Tree or make a donation can contact the Unity Baptist Church at 403-347-3961.