“People know if I stand up in church I’m going to talk about Angel Tree!”
That’s what Linda Brennan, one of PF’s volunteer Angel Tree Coordinators told us about her church’s involvement in our Christmas programme.
It’s the busiest time of year for our Angel Tree Coordinators. From September, application forms are given to mums and dads in prisons across England and Wales. As soon as those forms are filled out with requests for gifts for their children, volunteers like Linda are hard at work ensuring as many presents as possible can be delivered.
Requests like one last year from a dad whose daughter was only four days old when he received his sentence. Last year, she was four years old, and it was the first year he was able to send her a gift — all thanks to Angel Tree. “She was so happy to get one off me,” he recalls. “She loved the ballerina doll you sent.”
It’s the reason why Linda has been involved in Angel Tree since 2010, first running a small fundraising event at her church, and in 2012 becoming an Angel Tree Coordinator.
“I am extremely passionate about children,” she proclaims. “[A parent’s imprisonment] is totally unfair on the kids. I’ve worked with children throughout my working life, as a paediatric radiographer and as a nanny. What keeps me going is imagining the smiles on their faces.”
Last year, Angel Tree was run in 87 prisons. Volunteers and supporters sent over 4,500 gifts out to children on behalf of their parent in prison. Our Angel Tree Coordinators lead the programme for their local prison, but also manage the connections with local churches and groups who want to be involved.
Rev Andy Gore of Dronfield Baptist Church is enthusiastic about that connection: “Angel Tree makes such an unbelievable difference to the life of the children of prisoners. Its genius is in its simplicity — it happens unobtrusively, and it’s very simple to engage with.”
Every year, Rev Andy’s church gets involved buying Angel Tree gifts. Already this year, around thirty people have asked to be involved again. Once Linda receives the completed applications from the prisons, each of those people is given the details of one gift to buy. When they have bought their gift, everyone comes together for a “wrapping party”, where the presents are packaged and the gift tags written by the parents are added.
“Angel Tree is a real team effort in the church,” explains Linda. “The church prays for Angel Tree, and members hold activities throughout the year to raise money for Angel Tree. We managed 174 gifts last year and we would love to do more.”
Linda has even connected with other churches in the area through the churches Together network. So what is it about Angel Tree that has made it such an attractive and successful project in these churches?
“There is a sense of community that is created when people see that this is what the church does. It helps people to reformulate what they think about Jesus,” says Rev Andy. “Our church is about simple things that generate a positive light.”
The connection between Dronfield Baptist Church and Angel Tree is replicated many times over across England and Wales, as churches discover this wonderful way of entering into the Christmas story — the story of God coming to dwell amongst the poor, the outcast and the oppressed.
“Listening to the men in prison talking about how fantastic Angel Tree is and how much their children benefited from it is incredible,” Linda enthuses. “At its heart, Angel Tree is really simple — it’s about showing Christ’s love to prisoners by providing their kids with presents at Christmas.”