Israel Metropolitan Christian Methodist Episcopal Church changed its community room into a Christmas carnival for children of incarcerated parents who will not be with them this season.

Celebrating its 14th Annual Angel Tree Program, 53 families with loved ones incarcerated and 50 families from the community received gestures of love and good cheer from the church congregation.

“We organized today’s event so that a child who is an Angel Tree recipient would not be distinguished from one who was not,” said Loretta Helton, first lady of Israel Metropolitan Christian Methodist Episcopal Church. “This festive occasion is not only about the children receiving gifts but the joy of us giving. The kids are so excited and appreciative.”

Since 1998, Israel Church’s Prison Ministry has reached out to minister to prisoners, ex-prisoners and their families. The church has 35 ministries that work together to make the Angel Tree event a success.

Holiday songs were playing in the background as children pranced around the room with their faces painted. Children eagerly participated at different stations making cards to send their parents, designing tree ornaments, blowing up balloons, caroling and playing a Christmas bingo game. Churchgoer, Louis Marshall, a professional chef, made a wholesome meal.

“This is an end result of what we’re doing with the inmates and their families year round. The children will receive several gifts, a Bible and literature for youth,” said Alan Petty, the Angel Tree coordinator.

Carla Smith, 37, brought her eight-year old son to the event. The father is incarcerated in DC jail. It was her first time coming to this event. “The people are so friendly and loving. This teaches kids that their parents still care while they can’t be with them during the holidays.”

Theresa Lee-Washington, has been participating in Israel’s prison ministries for five years. She said when many of the inmates participate in the Angel Tree Program, it brings tears to their eyes. “Some really get emotional and cry because they are not here to do for their children. They get overwhelmed when they express how they couldn’t believe that someone else would give to their families during this season while they are in prison,” said Lee-Washington.

Church member, Mary Turner said Israel has a rich history of shining light on the community for those in need. “We truly care about families, their economic and social situations. We have year-round programs. Look at the multitude of activities for the children to enjoy. These kids will never forget because people kept sharing and pouring out love to soothe the pain of missing a loved one.”

A new arrival to DC, Alana Petty, a biology major at Howard University from Detroit, Mi. said she’s never experienced anything like this before. “The church showed an extension of the parent’s love. The church seems to thrive from giving back to the community,’ said Petty.

Founded in 1820, Israel is one of the District’s oldest congregations. It has been trying to provide outreach to inmates inside the DC Jail with no success. The church currently provides outreach to inmates in Prince Georges County jails. “We are praying that DC Jail opens up to our successful ministry. We are here to serve,” said Helton.


Valencia Mohammed

Special to the AFRO