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Jan 03, 2012 | EDOT Staff

Holy Trinity, Port Neches, Continues Angel Tree Ministry

In 2007 Holy Trinity Episcopal Church in Port Neches began participating in The Angel Tree Project, a program that organizes gift giving for the children of incarcerated parents. Holy Trinity sits in the middle of Jefferson County, home to an ever expanding prison industry. Although it took a couple of years to learn the process of how to do this ministry effectively, the people of Holy Trinity embraced the ministry and exceeded all expectations of generosity.


The Angel Tree Project is sponsored by Prison Fellowship to allow the children of an incarcerated parent to connect in spirit with their absent parent on Christmas. The children’s names are submitted many months in advance by the incarcerated parent. The names are divided among organizations and churches willing to contact the caregiver of the child to gain their permission to allow the child to participate in the program. Once permission is granted the names of the children are written on paper angel ornaments and chosen by an individual or family. These individuals or families, in turn, buy the gift specified on the tag. Each child receives a practical gift of clothing and a fun gift of a toy.


This year, Holy Trinity was given 13 families, representing 24 children. The angels were hung on the parish Christmas tree on November 20 and the tags were gone in a flash. Then, a group of volunteers verified each gift was correct before being wrapped on December 14.


In the past four years, all the gifts were delivered by parish volunteers. This year, however, Joyce Egan, the Angel Tree Coordinator, had the vision of extending the program by inviting the Angel Tree kids and families to the Parish Hall for a party. The youth group of the parish and members of a Girl Scout Troop took on the task of hosting a party for the Angel Tree recipients.


With the push from Egan, Holy Trinity stepped out in faith. The parish youth arrived early and decorated the hall with streamers and signs expressing “Happy Birthday” to Jesus. Tables were set with a variety of activities: face painting, cookie decorating and a craft table with holiday themed items to be assembled by the children.


The first family arrived with caregiver and children in tow and the first of many small miracles of the day began to unfold. Immediately, each guest was invited into the hall and one or more of the youth group would greet the children and a parishioner would greet the caregiver. Without hesitation the children migrated from table to table to work on projects or have their face painted. As the size of the crowd grew the noise level rose and it was apparent the children felt as if they belonged right where they were. Holy Trinity youth joined in with all the activities and it appeared that they were one big family. The children of inmates were not treated differently or special. It was as if they were longtime friends who had not been seen in quite a while.

The organizers felt God was there in the Parish Hall. His commandment to "love thy neighbor as thyself" was evident everywhere. Children laughed and parents, caregivers and parishioners engaged in conversation. Where only moments before we were strangers, suddenly they were friends united in God’s love. The Holy Trinity youth enjoyed the party as much as the invited guests.


Allie Sherwood, a Holy Trinity parishioner, shared the story of Christmas in terms that the children could easily understand. To those present, the event felt like a miracle. Love was expressed within the diversity of the group assembled. Perhaps they will never mingle again, but to Holy Trinity, seeing children who often times live on the fringes of society experience joy and love through a simple act of kindness was amazing.


Parents and caregivers said they were surprised that someone cared enough to think of them and to entertain them and their children. Close to the end of the event one of the caregivers said, "It wasn’t going to be much of a Christmas this year, with dad in jail, but now, well now, this Christmas may be the most special Christmas ever for my children. Thank you”.


Holy Trinity wishes that every Episcopal Church embrace the Angel Tree Project and take the opportunity to share the true meaning of the season with those who are so innocent but suffer so greatly. No child should have to do the time because a parent has made a bad choice and is incarcerated.  


To learn more about the Angel Tree Project, click here.