Debbie O’Brien holds a stack of paper angels. From October through December these little pieces of paper take over her life — in the best possible way.
That’s because Debbie wants to ensure that every one of these angels, which represent 210 children, have a gift under their Christmas tree from their fathers or mothers who are currently serving prison terms.
Through Prison Fellowship’s Angel Tree ministry, parents in prison are able to keep a connection with their children and ensure they know their parents have not forgotten them. These connections are essential to maintain relationships after their prison sentences are finished.
Across the United States, 2.7 million children are growing up with a parent in prison. In Virginia alone, there are 8,722 children in the Angel Tree program. Blue Ridge’s Celebrate Recovery ministry has committed to making sure children in our region keep a parent connection through Angel Tree.
For more than 10 years, Debbie O’Brien, Celebrate Recovery co-leader, has coordinated Angel Tree at Blue Ridge. She has also helped involve other local churches to be sure all 170+ children in our area are covered.
“I can’t give these kids back. It’s like I’ve adopted them. God’s brought these kids for a reason and he’s going to bring the people to take care of them,” Debbie said.
Debbie first became aware of the Prison Fellowship's Angel Tree program many years ago when her children received gifts from her husband David while he was in prison. She is glad to continue this program, knowing what it meant to her and her family. And she loves that there is often a relationship beyond the Christmas gift.
“The family buys the gift, sets the appointment, and delivers the gift,” she said. “I’ve heard stories of people taking a meal or meeting at McDonald’s and spending time together."
Along with the gift, the children and caregivers receive booklets called “The Book of Hope” that share the Gospel, and the parents receive a Bible.
Debbie said it’s important to know that Angel Tree isn’t just a gift for the children, but also for their caregivers. Often when a parent goes to prison, a single parent carries all the load or a grandparent or other relative steps in.
“Grandparents raising grandkids is a huge responsibility that they didn’t expect,”Debbie said. “To keep their grandchildren from foster care, they take on enormous financial responsibility … relieving that responsibility at Christmas is huge.”
For more information on how you can be involved with Angel Tree, email Debbie O’Brien at firstname.lastname@example.org.