Three dozen Detroit kids with a parent in prison got a special day of their own Saturday, as members of a local chapter of the Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority presented them with gifts and goodies arranged through a national group that focuses on redemption and healing for offenders and their families.
For the fifth year, the women of the Redford-based Tau Alpha Omega chapter of AKA hosted a Christmas celebration for children, complete with visits with Santa Claus and Paws, the Detroit Tigers mascot. Kuddles the Clown painted faces and made balloon animals for the kids.
Sorority members also purchased gifts for the children, working with their caregivers to determine what clothing and toys each child wanted most. The gifts, which the children and their families take home to open on Christmas, come with a message from the incarcerated parent. It’s a way for the children to know they’ve not been forgotten by that parent and are loved.
Doris Pickett brought two grandchildren to the party, Raekwon Mitchell, 9, and Ramiya Johnson, 5.
“They look forward to it every year,” Pickett said as the kids made crafts together before lunch and Santa’s arrival. “We’re just trying to make sure the kids have a good time.”
Asked what his favorite part of the day was, Raekwon couldn’t pick just one. “I like everything,” he said.
The sorority arranges the party and gifts through the Angel Tree program of the Prison Fellowship, a Virginia-based nonprofit that provides assistance for the families of prisoners nationwide. The group estimates there are 2.7 million children in the U.S. with an incarcerated parent.
The festive atmosphere Saturday in a banquet room at the Hotel St. Regis in the New Center area — including a meal of hot dogs, chips, cookies and other goodies — is meant to give the children an afternoon of joy. They’re given Christmas-themed pages to color with markers and colored pens, plus crafts to make gingerbread men and other decorations.
“We don’t want it to be a handout,” said Tau Alpha Omega chapter president Starlett Burrell of Southfield. “We want it to be a celebration.”
Organizers of the event said many of the families who benefit from the gifts and celebration are low-income and can’t afford to spend much on Christmas.
“Sometimes all they’re going to get for Christmas is what we give them,” said sorority sister Lynda Dandridge of Southfield.
Dawayna Howard brought her children James Cohen, 4, Juelz Cohen, 7, and Jada Cohen, 10, and said they appreciated that the gifts they’ll receive include their father. “It’s always a big help, and it puts a big smile on their faces,” she said.
Jada said she planned to ask Santa for a new outfit and an Easy-Bake Oven so she can make cookies with her mom on Christmas Day. But beyond the gifts, she said she loves the party. “You get to do a lot of activities, and you get to make new friends,” she said.
Donations to the Prison Fellowship’s Angel Tree program can be made at www.angeltree.org.
article by Matt Helms via freep.com