More than two hundred volunteers pack St. Andrew's Episcopal Church on Dec. 11 to wrap presents for 300 children who have parents incarcerated locally.
Photo by Shirley Ruhe.
The Undercroft Room at St. Andrew's Episcopal Church is buzzing with anticipation on Dec. 11 for the OAR Winter Cheer Wrapping Party, presents for children who have a parent incarcerated locally. Tables are stacked with colorful wrapping paper and rolls of tape. People munch on slices of pizza while they wait for the envelopes to be passed out with the name and wish list of their designated child.
Donated toys are arranged on tables by age groups, with the 6-8-year-old table offering something for everyone, from Glam Nail Stampers, soccer balls, a rainbow loom and "Diary of a Wimpy Kid." This year, OAR is providing gifts for 300 children, and each child will get three gifts. OAR has been collecting presents in boxes located around the community for children from newborn-18 years old since early October.
More than 200 volunteers crowd the room to choose the gifts for their designated child, wrap them and include the handwritten note from the parent. Many of the volunteers have made this a family tradition.
Krista O'Connell and Chris Jones said they had been coming to this event for the last five years. O'Connell says, "I am so busy at this time of the year but I had to come. This is one of my favorite things of the year." She adds, "I love it that the gifts are from the family with a handwritten note from the incarcerated parent to the child. That makes it special."
OAR does this in an effort to bridge the gap between individuals experiencing incarceration and their children as these relationships are often strained and challenged during incarceration. Jones says, "It's a meaningful experience. I like to pick out toys. The children's lists tell you a little bit about what the kids are like."
Volunteer drivers will deliver the toys to the children before Christmas.
OAR is a private non-profit 503(c) (3) organization that serves Arlington County and the cities of Alexandria and Falls Church. OAR's mission is to provide community-managed programs aimed at restoring the individual offender as a responsible member of the community by providing alternatives to incarceration, programs to inmates and services to ex-offenders.