Christmas for Kids of Parents in Prison
By Dianne Anderson
Getting the kids ready to receive their Christmas gifts is a delicate procedure for Alisha Wade and volunteers as they make their list of children and check it twice, but without any names to go with the cherubim faces.
Through her sorority, Beta Pi Sigma, she heads up the Angel Tree Prison Ministry project where she and others never see the children or know their names beyond their assigned number until the big event.
To protect them from potential harm, the gifts are given to the children calling their first names only.
“You have this gang member here and another gang member with their child, those two children could get into it because their [parents are from a] rival gang,” she said.
During processing, she said they get the prisoner’s name, religion, race, pertinent information, and caregiver information, but they must also be careful about approaching the guardians.
Many incarcerated parents are banned from affiliating with their children. When that happens, she has to drop the child from the gift list because it’s mandated in the court records.
With so many community children with parents in jail, she felt compelled 12 years ago to start the local project. Angel Tree Prison Ministry has been around for over 50 years, and Wade has been affiliated with the nonprofit and hosting gift giving events at her senior facility in Long Beach.
Right now, they have 182 children with 22 members of her sorority all pitching in, not counting many volunteers.
Gift-giving this year includes a puppet show, one gift that they want and another gift that they need, along with the kind of traditional memories that Wade received as a child, a Christmas stocking filled with apples, oranges, nuts and candy canes. The kids also get the gifts they need, and they gifts they want, everything from pampers to school uniforms, underwear and socks. The older ones get gift cards.
She said the program will keep close ties with some of the families through the coming year.
“We have five families that are desperate right now, and we’ll follow them all of 2022. We are Beta Pi Sigma, a business women’s group, and we have scholarships for children and back to school programs,” she said.
Each year, prisoners from Long Beach and surrounding areas learn of the program, and submit the names of their children, and the volunteers give gifts on their behalf. Often the children live with a guardian, but many are in foster homes
As so many Black women have been pushed into the prison system in recent decades, many of their children served are African American.
“Believe it or not, the majority of our prisoners this time are more females. There are many more females that we serve than men.”
Wade is also a member of the Long Beach chapter NCNW and local branch NAACP, where she was recognized earlier this year for her years of volunteerism. She has served as a facilitator of the organization’s Covid-19 food project, and distribution of masks, gloves and hand sanitizers.
Over the decades, she has been equally active and involved with local seniors, specifically the facility that her grandfather built. The late Rev. N.J. Kirkpatrick Sr., founder of New Hope Baptist Church in Long Beach in 1943, was big on community giving. He had a special commitment to making sure that local low income seniors had a nice place to live.
While he had the vision and the know-how to get the facility built, he lacked the funding.
“The banks he went to, all the banks told him no. There’s no way they were going to give a Black man that amount of money especially since it was federally funded. He went to United California Bank, they loaned him $2 million. That’s how we built this building,” said Wade, the CEO of New Hope Homes, Inc.
The 120-unit HUD-funded low income senior facility was built in 1971, and where she serves as the manager of New Hope Homes, Inc. She said her grandfather was ahead of his time. The facility was built LEED Certified, environmentally sustainable before it was popular.
About nine years ago, she had facility grounds renovated, which today stands as an oasis for the elderly in the Central Area. They have a small neighborhood park area, a barbeque and a waterfall. She put in a garden where the seniors work together on 24 8×8 individual parcels, some are wheelchair accessible. They have fig trees, a grapevine, avocados, lemons and limes.
“They work together as a team. Some may do greens, some may do tomatoes and onions. They get together as a group and that’s how they survive,” she said.
It’s all just the continuation of the Kirkpatrick legacy.
“This was instilled in me at a very young age, to help others because you’re nothing if you only help yourself. It’s a blessing to be able to help somebody else,” she said.