Christmas comes early for prisoners' children
Valero employees Dedrick Wilson and Judy Lanci pick out an ornament on the company’s angel tree.
Ministers Ivy Williams and Shirley Sims, of the Alpha Daughters of Zion, spend the year counseling prisoners locked up in the Nelson Coleman Correctional Center. But Williams and Sims also make sure to get the names, ages and addresses of the inmate’s children.
That information is then given to Valero to ensure that those children are not forgotten about during Christmas.
Taryn Rogers, community relations specialist for Valero, said that information is used to make an "Angel Tree" that is installed in Valero’s administration building. The entire tree is covered with ornaments that include the ages of the children and in some circumstances, their clothing size.
"Valero employees choose an ornament and buy a gift for that child for Christmas," Rogers said. "Some of the Valero employees even team up to get a gift that cost a little more."
This year, Valero will donate 42 gifts to the Alpha Daughters of Zion. Williams said that the gifts are then distributed to the children’s guardians.
Williams added that the guardians are often the children’s mothers or grandmothers.
"They are just so grateful," she said. "A lot of them are on disability and they can’t afford to buy gifts. This way it is like the gift is coming from the mother, grandmother or guardian."
Rogers agreed, saying that Valero feels that no child should be left out, especially during the holidays.
"This donation is one of many that Valero St. Charles Refinery has made in the community this holiday season," she said. "We feel fortunate with what we have so we are happy to do what we can to help our neighbors."
Along with Valero and the Alpha Daughters of Zion, Innerfaith Prison Ministries also helps buy the children of inmates gifts for the holidays while providing year-round support.
"The state says that 69 percent of all children who have a parent incarcerated will end up in the prison system themselves," said Christine Roseberry, executive director of Innerfaith Prison Ministries. "Over the last 16 years, we have had about 2,000 kids come through the program and we’ve only had three that have ever been arrested and none of them have ever done time.
"That’s way, way, way below the state average."
Roseberry and her husband, Russell Roseberry, started Innerfaith Ministries more than 30 years ago and ministered to only one prison. Now the organization visits 19 facilities in Louisiana on a regular basis. Eighteen years ago, they decided to branch out to help the prisoners’ families as well. They started by throwing the children a Christmas party.
"We wanted to somehow bridge the gap between the inmates and their families," Roseberry said. "Now we’ve had so many parents tell us that without us, the children would not have a Christmas this year."
The organization also hosts "family Sundays" with the inmates, giving them the rare opportunity to spend an entire day with their children.
"Many of them say, ‘This is the first time that I have ever spent this much quality time with my child since they were born,’" Roseberry said.
Those who want to donate money, Christmas gifts or time to Innerfaith Prison Ministries can call the office at (337)232-1060 or visit www.innerfaithpm.org
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