By Cassie McClure: CNJ correspondent
A group of National Honor Society students from Fort Sumner went beyond family gift-giving this Christmas.
For the fifth year, each student bought two gifts for children on behalf of the child’s incarcerated parent as part of the Prison Fellowship Ministries’ Angel Tree program.
Mary Ann Cortese, director of the local NHS, has been leading the group of about 25-30 students each year and said the program puts her students in “the true spirit of the season.”
“It gives the children a more appreciative look at Christmas,” she said. “It seems to me that those children who have the least seem to give the most.”
The group tries to fill the general request of the incarcerated parents who cannot spend time with their children during the holidays. It also gives inmates the chance to be a part of their children’s lives during Christmas, Cortese said.
The prisoners fill out an application for their son or daughter, stating the child’s gender, age and hobbies.
Volunteers for Angel Tree then try to purchase gifts to match the parents’ criteria.
“Usually we try to find what they need, like winter coats or sports equipment,” Cortese said.
The Angel Tree program began in 1982 and volunteers have been able to brighten the holidays for 6.3 million prisoner’s children. In America, Angel Tree supports 32 percent of all children whose parents are in jail by involving churches and families to help spread the gift of giving.
Judy Scott, Angel Tree coordinator for the Fort Sumner, Tucumcari and Santa Rosa areas, said several years ago a Santa Rosa girl’s most prized present was the one received from her father through the program.
“She had received lots of gifts from other family members,” Scott said. “But the grandparents had said the gift from her father was the most memorable for her.”