Starting Sunday, Dec. 1, First Free Rockford is again participating in Angel Tree, a program sponsored by Prison Fellowship. The program delivers gifts, a gospel message and personal message of love to kids on behalf of their incarcerated parent.
This year, more than 7,000 churches and groups have committed to serve more than 300,000 kids across the country. First Free is one of five churches in Rockford, and one of eight in Winnebago County, taking part, said Angel Tree Program Specialist Danielle Kruger.
Tomah Crabb’s son, Bernard, is incarcerated in the Lincoln (Ill.) Correctional Center. For the past several years Buddy, as he’s better known, has signed his kids up for Angel Tree.
Tomah, of Rockford, takes care of Buddy’s kids.
“We’ve been through a lot since he’s been in prison,” she said. “He’s lost his dad.”
On a Saturday before Christmas, the Angel Tree gifts arrive for the kids: clothes, toys, “things that they like,” Tomah says. The gifts are already wrapped, with the kids’ names on them. Their predictable response: “Can we open them? Can we open them?”
“I love it, because it helps out a lot,” Tomah says.
The kids also know their dad had a hand in the gifts. It’s one way of making a hard situation a little better.
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We spoke with Susan Schumacher, who organizes the Angel Tree effort at First Free.
What’s it like to get to be part of this program? And for you, what’s it been like to help people even realize that the need exists?
There is a lot of shame for children of prisoners, plus the longing and sense of loss. Children can feel forgotten and overlooked. The Angel Tree program lets them know that they are loved, and reminds them of Jesus’ love for them. Each child receives colorful materials that present the gospel in an age-appropriate way. Plus, each family can request a beautiful, free children’s Bible.
How many families is First Free helping this year?
We will be serving 56 kids in 16 families. Also, the Angel Tree organization asked us to partner this year with Christ Tamil Church (Wheaton) to deliver their gifts in Rockford for them. They are purchasing gifts for 8 families and will bring them to us for delivery.
What are the dates people can take part?
People can select their Angel children from the tree in the lobby beginning this Sunday, Dec. 1. Gifts should be wrapped and returned to the church by Tuesday, Dec. 17.
Volunteers are needed to help pack the gifts at 9 a.m. Wednesday, Dec. 18. We also need drivers to help deliver them at 9:15 a.m. Saturday, Dec. 21. Interested volunteers can contact me by email : sueschu13 [at] hotmail [dot] com or call the church at 815-877-7046.
Any other long-term plans for First Free’s involvement in this?
I would like to develop some kind of an ongoing outreach program in which we continue contact with the children and invite them to youth activities at our church.
Jim Killam is a journalist, author, teacher and terminal Cubs fan. He and his wife, Lauren, live in Rockford and work internationally with Wycliffe Bible Translators.