Written By: Katie Sobiech
Christmas music filled the air as families shuffled through the doors of the Kingdom Builders building one by one, seeking shelter from the frosty weather. I watched with compassion as mostly mothers walked through the doors with their young children – some just two years old.
These children all have one thing in common – they will be spending Christmas apart from one of their parents this year (and possibly for years to come) because either their mother or father is in prison.
Every year Perry Clark, Director of Truly Reaching You Ministries, and his wife Lisa organize the Angel Tree program – a ministry that reaches out to the children of inmates and their families with the love of Christ.
With an estimated 1.5 million children with a mother or father in prison, the Clark family realized the need for a ministry such as this and felt called to start in the Akron area.
This year’s focus was South Akron where about 100 individuals were expected to show up for the celebration on December 13th.
Perry welcomed everyone and opened up saying “Someone once did this for my children.”
The room became silent as he shared some of his testimony, followed by Lisa who encouraged the crowd saying, “Not all of us came here with silks and linen but you know (Jesus) came here with swaddling clothes – something maybe an animal had.”
You could tell it touched the room full of single, struggling parents.
Soon after, the kids decorated snowflake ornaments while the parents collected donated items at the free gift table.
The families enjoyed sloppy joes and nachos and were given bags of fruit, candy and health care items – like toothpaste. They sang “Happy Birthday Jesus” and at the finale each child was given a colorful bag filled with gifts.
“I’ve been through some tough days this year,” Javetta Devine Moore, one of the mothers who attended, said.
Being a single mother of a 6 year old child isn’t easy. Losing your car and having to rely on public transportation as well as standing in food lines at churches doesn’t make it any easier.
“I’m at a low point,” she said, but “I’m so happy, so thankful…I’m overwhelmed,” she said, with a bright smile, sharing her appreciation for ministries such as this.
Her mother, Varetta Moore, shared the same enthusiasm.
“When I first came in the door I could feel the love,” she said, “I just felt the purity of God pouring out of people’s hearts all around the room. I think this is a beautiful program. God is here.”
A Grandmothers Story
Varetta has experienced her own set of struggles. The “baby girl” of 14 siblings, she says “All that I saw were my brothers going to prison all of my life.”
And it didn’t stop there. The father of her first daughter was also given life in prison.
After many tumultuous years and two difficult marriages she says “I got so tired with the world and the things that were going on in certain churches that I turned to another religion.”
“It wasn’t that I didn’t know God. I knew Him. I was just mad at people,” she said.
Eventually, though, she said, “I just couldn’t do it because I knew God, and my spirit was fighting with me.”
So she returned to the church and that is where she re-connected with two of her daughters for whom she had prayed for years and found that they had re –dedicated their lives to Christ.
“About 5 years ago my daughter’s baby’s dad went to jail,” she explained, “he turned my daughter’s world upside down (for the worse),” she continued, expressing her anger towards him, “but it’s because of him that we’re here today. He did give this much to us.”
He heard about Angel Tree at prison and wanted to give a gift to his daughter.
“I was like ‘thank you Lord’ because we didn’t have any money this year,” Varetta said, “I was working temporary jobs since I came back from that religion and my name keeps me from getting hired.”
(She had changed her name to Imani Musalima for spiritual reasons but prefers to be called by her birth name – Varetta Moore).
History of Angel Tree
Angel Tree officially began in 1982 with Mary Kay Beard, once an inmate herself, who realized that children are the true victims of crime – they are the ones who suffer.
Having a sense of compassion for the children, she began the ministry by setting up trees at two local malls and putting children’s names on angel ornaments. Then she advertised the idea to the public, asking them to purchase a Christmas gift for an “angel”. The response was huge and it just continued to grow from there.
The vision for Angel Tree in Akron began in 1997. After serving time in prison, Perry felt a call of God on his life to provide transitional housing for men and women who were coming home from jail. In doing that he discovered a second need. The inmates had children they weren’t able to provide for because of being incarcerated – so he and his wife found a way to implement a way of giving through Angel Tree.
They’ve served up to 300 children at a time through this ministry – providing gifts and hope to many. Ministry partners donate the items and sign the gift in the name of the parent who cannot be there to give a gift to their child.
“We just want to give hope that there are people out there that really care and want the best for you,” Lisa said, “We want you to know that there’s still hope and love in the world and we want to share some of that.”
Christmas and Beyond
If you would like to help this ministry which touches the hearts of not only children, but parents and grandparents aswell – the opportunities are endless.
And it doesn’t stop at Christmas! Whether you would like to donate, volunteer or share some love – Lisa says they need it all. Truly Reaching You Ministries which runs the Angel Tree ministry in Akron has other year – round events, including the Night out Against Crime.
As for Christmas, “Keep in mind that Jesus is the reason for the season and without Him we are without hope. He came so we can have life and life more abundantly. So spread some love, spread some hope!” Lisa said.