"Being able to offer their children a gift at the Christmas visit gives the inmates an opportunity for connection, for a sliver of normalcy in their family relations."
Editor's note: The following article was originally published in the fall 2015 newsletter of the Episcopal Diocese of New Hampshire. Reposted here with permission by the author, Maggie Mackie-Ciancio.
Gift Program for Inmates and their Children
Children of incarcerated parents celebrate Christmas every year with the help of the Episcopal Church of New Hampshire sponsors who donate gifts and funds to make it happen. Both the families and the incarcerated parents themselves are deeply grateful for the opportunity that the Children of Incarcerated Parents (CHiPs) program offers.
The prisons count the number of gifts needed for each age and gender group. Volunteers collect your gift donations, and use monetary donations to supplement the gifts provided. Once the presents are sorted, they're brought to the prisons, and the inmates get the chance to choose one gift for each child on their list. Usually the inmate is a parent, grandparent, or sibling.
Connecting Inmates with Families
Children of prison inmates can live lonely lives. It's easy to believe that a parent you never see just doesn't care. Inmates also find themselves feeling isolated and abandoned, unable to proved for or to be a part of their families. Being able to offer their children a gift at the Christmas visit gives the inmates an opportunity for connection, for a sliver of normalcy in their family relations.
Studies have shown that parolees are significantly more likely to integrate back into society if they are able to maintain relationships with their families. The CHiPs program creates positive experiences on which to build a foundation for those relationships. Click to see more information about the Family Connections Center in the State of New Hampshire.
At the Men's Prison in Concord, NH, once the gift is chosen, volunteers wrap it. The prison then throws a party! The family visits, and the inmates are able to give presents to their children. The CHiPs program also includes an age-appropriate book to go with each gift, helping to promote literacy within this underserved population.
Below are the gift guidelines that Diocese of New Hampshire publishes for the CHiPs program. You may find these helpful, for this or for a future program in your context.
1. We group gifts according to the following age groups:
• Birth to age 1
• Ages 2-4
• Ages 5-7
• Ages 8-11
• Ages 12-15
2. Gifts should not exceed $20 (original retail value). One $20 gift is preferable to four $5 gifts, as it is difficult to group items together. If you don't want to purchase a $20 gift, any monetary donation will gladly be accepted.
3. Books are a separate category and our goal is to provide each child with a gift and a book. Both hardcover and paperback books are acceptable.
4. If you purchase a gift that requires batteries, please purchase those as well and attach them to the gift. It's so discouraging to receive a gift with no batteries!
5. Consider buying a gift that would be appropriate for both girls and boys, such as balls or board games.
6. Don't forget the older children! It's often easier to buy gifts for younger children. There is always a shortage for teenagers.
7. No used items, homemade items, or gift cards can be accepted.
8. The following items are NOT acceptable: jewelry, balloons, crayons, play dough, glue, bubbles, make-up, long sticks, knitting needles, crochet hooks, paint brushes, glass items, clothing, sharp tools or toy weapons of any kind.
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