Happy Thanksgiving from Prison Fellowship®! We’ve pulled one of our favorite stories out of the archives for you today. This is the story of Leah. Around Thanksgiving last year, Leah’s father Joey was released from prison. Check out what she did out of thankfulness for the love Angel Tree® volunteers showed her during her dad’s incarceration
ANGEL TREE FAMILY RETURNS THE FAVOR
By Zoe Erler
It was a big occasion every year. Each Christmas, Leah’s grandparents and aunts and uncles were eager to find out what gifts she had received from her dad.
“Christmas for our family is just huge in general. This gave Leah just something to look forward to, so that she wasn’t an outsider in the family,” explains Roni, Leah’s mom. “Everyone would know what Leah’s dad got her.”
Not long after Leah’s father Joey went to prison, Roni noticed a little tree set up in their church’s foyer. A friend mentioned that it was an “Angel Tree” and that Leah’s name could be on the tree herself. Roni reached out to Joey and told him about Angel Tree, and a few months later, a woman from their own church showed up on the doorsteps with gifts for then 8-year-old Leah, from her daddy.
“I don’t know what it would have been like really without that,” admits Roni, a single mother who was working hard to get a meal on the table, much less Christmas presents.
Over the next five years, the same woman would show up every Christmas with presents for Leah.
“It made me really excited!” Leah recalls. “I remember one year that it was this really big coloring book that I told my dad I wanted.”
But, for Leah, it ultimately wasn’t about the gifts. It was about being able to stay connected to her dad. The two kept in close contact over Joey’s nine-year incarceration, via frequent phone calls and regular visits. For Joey, Angel Tree added a special element to his relationship with his daughter.
“[I would] call home and she [would say], ‘Thanks Dad, for the Christmas presents. It keeps you closer to your kids and family while you’re gone.’ ”
In November 2015, Joey was released from prison. It was a sweet reunion for him and Leah, now 16. A few weeks later, he came to church—the church that had supported the family through Angel Tree and many other ways over the years. Later that afternoon, Leah and Roni drove around their community delivering Angel Tree gifts to several other families. To be on the other side of the Angel Tree process “was very humbling,” Roni says.
These days, Leah and Joey are just as close as ever.
“He gets to go to a lot of my sport activities,” says Leah, who is a cheerleader and runs track. “It’s really fun now that he’s here.”
Roni adds, “It’s just like those two have never been separated.”
This Thanksgiving, we want to say thank you to all our Angel Tree volunteers who serve hundreds of thousands of children around the country like Leah. We are grateful for you!
If you’re not a volunteer, we invite you to join the team. Check out our Angel Tree page to get more information and register.