The holiday season is already upon us, and for New Life Assembly of God in Seymour, that means making sure children with an incarcerated parent have a gift from Jesus to open on Christmas morning.
Pastor Steve Hyer and the congregation want to let the caregivers and children know that somebody cares.
Hyer helped start the Gifts for Inmates’ Kids outreach when the new jail facility opened in 2000 in Brownstown.
"So many times, they feel like everybody looks down on them because a parent made a mistake, and some haven’t been to trial yet that are still innocent," Hyer said. "It’s just another way of saying Jesus cares and we care. These gifts don’t come from Santa Claus. They come from Jesus."
The outreach is a communitywide effort, and New Life has partnered with Nippon Steel Pipe America Inc., Pet Supplies Plus and Silgan Plastics in Seymour, which are all helping with the gifts this year.
"Vallonia Christian Church, Central Christian Church in Seymour and the members of our own church, New Life Assembly, are also helping with the gift ministry this year," Hyer said. "I just can’t thank those factories and churches enough for their generosity, and some have helped multiple times over the years."
There are 251 children — more than any year in the past — on the list to receive gifts. That number is up some from last year and more than double from what it was six years ago when there were 110 children who received gifts through the outreach.
"We try to hand-deliver to all the ones who are local and within driving distance, and for the other children, we mail their gifts," Hyer said. "Last year, we mailed some to Florida, Tennessee and other areas."
Each child who receives a present also will find a plan of salvation, which is included in the gift package.
"When I was a child, my dad did some time in jail, and some people gave us things, and it really helped and let us know that Jesus loved us," Hyer said. "It really made a difference, and it’s just something to do instead of forgetting about the kids or being upset about the situation."
Hyer said to be eligible for the program, the inmates must request presents for their children.
"The jail commander, Chris Everhart, was wonderful and helped things go smoothly, and that was a real blessing," Hyer said. "He went through and passed out forms to the inmates, and for all of the ones who filled them out, their children will receive a gift."
Hyer said it’s a grassroots kind of thing, and anyone wanting to donate may get in touch with him. Cash donations are welcome, too. Volunteers at the church can then go shopping for the gifts, and any funds that come in will go right back out.
"None of it is designed for the whole family, and we are not trying to buy Christmas for the child," Hyer said. "We’re not buying clothing, but instead, we purchase something they can have fun with and can keep."
New Life church member Linda Rumph has participated in previous years because she thinks it’s a great cause.
"Having your parents incarcerated would be devastating for a child, and I just know in my heart, a little bit of something for Christmas goes a long way when you’re a child," Rumph said. "Our pastor does what he can to help anybody, and there are a lot of kids to get for this year, but the good Lord always comes through."
Congregation member Wayne Wingfeld also enjoys helping with the gift-giving program.
"I’ve participated in the program for at least six years, if not more than that, because it’s another way for our church to reach out and help the little ones," he said. "It lets them know there is someone who truly cares for and loves them and lets them know the Lord loves them when they think he might not."
Wingfeld said his experience from helping deliver the gifts is heartfelt.
"It shows them even though they’re down, they’re not out even though they might think they are," Winfeld said. "I think it also gives the family reassurance to let them know there are people out there who care."
Wingfeld said he and his family believe there is a guardian angel watching over all of us, and right now, some kids and caregivers might not be feeling it because they’ve got one of their loved ones incarcerated.
Donations are being accepted through Friday at New Life Assembly of God, 800 Brookhaven Drive, behind Seymour Middle School.
"That’ll give us five days to get it done, and every year, I ask God, ‘How are you going to do this?’ and every year, he does," Hyer said. "It’s in his name, not mineh and we’ve discovered that not only are the kids really touched by this ministry, but so are the caregivers."
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Anyone who would like to make a donation to the Gifts for Inmates’ Kids outreach may contact Pastor Steve Hyer at 812-521-6141 to see if there are any specific needs.
Gifts may be dropped off at New life Assembly of God, 800 Brookhaven Drive, behind Seymour Middle School.
Donations are being accepted through Friday for newborns and children ages 1 through 18. Cash also will be accepted for the purpose of shopping for the kids’ gifts.