As the Christmas season once more reminds us of generosity, love, and hope, I would like to mention one special holiday activity in our community which embodies those ideals and humbles us all in its grace.
Since childhood I have respected the Salvation Army and its policy of “Doing The Most Good.” I have watched the yeoman work that both the local and international organization does year round. The world is aware of the Salvation Army’s boots-on-the-ground service whenever there is a need. Fire, flood, hurricane — you name it — and that red shield is almost the first thing one sees in an emergency situation. That shield has been a symbol of generosity, love and hope in Juneau, Alaska for over 100 years.
The emergency situation I mention here is less world shattering, perhaps, unless you are a child facing Christmas, whose father or mother is in prison.
The Juneau Salvation Army Advisory Board began a program several years ago, which inspires even those of us already awed by Christmas and its celebration. This is their Christmas program for the children of prisoners.
The Advisory Board, with volunteers, gathers new gifts for children from newborns to age 18. This program is separate from all of the other seasonal sharing the local Salvation Army and the community does for youngsters.
With gracious assistance from the Lemon Creek Correctional Facility, the volunteers set up a kind of “gift shop” for one day at the prison. Those prisoners deemed trustworthy enough to participate, are allowed to choose from the array of gifts clearly displayed as age and gender appropriate. Sadly, many parents have not seen their children growing up; therefore they have no idea of size or interests. So we stick with toys for the tots, and with jewelry, electronics, music, and beauty items for the teens.
The parent selects with care, obviously wanting a personal connection to the gift and to the recipient. Frequently there are several children in one family. After choices are made, cards signed, and careful listing of names, the Juneau Salvation Army Advisory Board and the volunteers take charge. By the next day the gifts have been holiday wrapped, and either delivered locally or shipped if the children do not live in this area. In no way is the genesis of the gift advertised.
Sometimes we hear from the incarcerated parent. Sometimes we hear from other members of a family. But what most warms our hearts is the knowledge that despite the pain with which the family is living, a child experienced joy learning an absent parent did not forget them at Christmas.
That is generosity, that is love, and that is hope.
• Guerin is a member of the Salvation Army Advisory Board. She lives in Juneau.