Happy Birthday Jesus – The Angel Tree Banquet

This December, Ministry Village at Olive and an adult Sunday School class from Olive Baptist Church will host their 6th Angel Tree Banquet to bless and encourage the children of incarcerated parents in our community.

In 2014, Scott Heald, the Administrator of the Most Excellent Way Addiction Support and Jail Ministry at Ministry Village, learned about The Angel Tree, a program of Prison Fellowship®. The Angel Tree Program began in 1982 as an outreach specifically designed to focus on the relationship between those in jail and the children they left behind. According to the Angel Tree website, “1 in 28 American children lives with the shame of a parent’s incarceration; that’s one boy or girl in every classroom.” The Angel Tree 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.

Organizations and churches that partner with Angel Tree 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 Ministry Village at Olive 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.

Members of Olive 6 Connection Group decorate for a previous MVO Angel Tree Banquet

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.

Each year, the Ministry Village Angel Tree Banquet has grown. 70 children were invited to the first banquet in 2014. This year, Ministry Village is able to invite 120 children and 44 caregivers. There are more than 250 children in Escambia and Santa Rosa counties that will go unserved this Christmas, and more than 3,000 statewide.

Anne says her whole Sunday School class loves being a part 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 sheald@ministryvillage.org.

To learn more about The Angel Tree Program and Prison Fellowship®, click here or watch this video from Angel Tree.

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