Bringing Joy to Area Children Through the Angel Tree Banquet
Ministry Village at Olive recently held the fifth annual Angel Tree Christmas Banquet on December 15 in Passmore Hall at Olive Baptist Church. 28 volunteers (many from Olive’s Adult 6 Connection Group) setup, decorated and hosted the party for 63 local children who attended with family members and caregivers.
Designed to focus on the relationship between those in jail and the children they left behind, the Angel Tree Program was created by Prison Fellowship®. The program provides an opportunity to bridge the divide between parents behind bars and their children by connecting families with donors who want to make a difference. Scott Heald, Administrator of Ministry Village’s Most Excellent Way, Jail and Homeless Ministries, began the Ministry Village Angel Tree Banquet in 2014 to provide his Sunday School class with a unique outreach project.
Each year, Scott and his team of volunteers receive a list of area children whose incarcerated parent has signed up to participate. Inmates list specific gifts or provide their children’s interests along with ages, clothing sizes, etc. Donors then shop for the gifts and deliver them to the children. Scott wanted the Ministry Village event to have a more personal touch, so the idea of the Angel Tree Banquet was born. Volunteers from Scott’s Sunday School class shop for the children, wrap and tag the gifts, and package them for distribution. A message to the child from the incarcerated parent is also included with each gift.
Children and their caregivers are invited to a party held in Passmore Hall at Olive Baptist Church. “It’s a birthday party – a Happy Birthday Jesus Party,” said Anne Berryhill, one of the Pensacola banquet organizers. Volunteers shop, decorate, and place special goody bags of candy and toys at each place setting. Guests are treated to a child-friendly lunch that ends with a special dessert. “Each child receives ice cream, and a cupcake with a candle. The table hosts light the candles and then we all sing “Happy Birthday” to Jesus. It’s a very special time that all the kids really seem to love.” Then Santa Claus makes an appearance, visits with each child, and distributes the gifts.
This year, Olive’s Minister of Music, Jon Tyner, and Olive’s children’s music director, Kaitlin Mattox, brought in some special musical guests – kids from Olive’s IMPACT choir. “We wanted to sing some fun Christmas songs to encourage joy and laughter for these families during the Christmas season,” said Kaitlin. The Angel Tree children loved seeing kids their own age lead the singing celebration. “We were honored to be a part of the banquet.”
Anne Berryhill says her whole Sunday School class enjoys being a part of the planning and hosting of the Ministry Village Angel Tree Banquet, and explains that it is a true group effort. “It’s a lot of work to plan, shop, decorate, and setup. But we’re able to sit at those tables and talk to those families, offer them comfort and hope – even help meet their needs, like helping them find counseling and support. It’s a lot of work to do the banquet – but it’s very worth it.”
The Ministry Village Angel Tree Banquet is held every year in early December. If you’d like to donate to help provide gifts for participating children, please contact Scott Heald at Ministry Village (850) 475-1112 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
To learn more about The Angel Tree Program and Prison Fellowship®, click here.