DOC Donates Holiday Packages of Food, Toys to Incarcerated Individuals’ Families
January 20, 2021
The COVID-19 pandemic has limited in-person contact between incarcerated individuals and extended family. Every year, the Department of Corrections holds pro-social holiday events to distribute toy, clothing and essential supplies for incarcerated individuals’ families.
Often those under community supervision are invited to bring their children and family to community justice centers for a special event. The facility is usually adorned in seasonal décor and children receive gifts from Santa. Many prisons hold special holiday visitation events where family members participate in holiday activities with their children.
The pandemic curtailed in-person holiday events in 2020. However, corrections staff across the state came up with some creative no-contact ways to brighten the holidays for families impacted by the justice system to stay connected. This list may not highlight every winter family event, but it offers a glimpse of the ways people have been able to move forward with holiday giving in a safe manner.
Here, in no particular order, are some of the activities.
Staff at the Everett Community Justice Center (CJC) had a revelation. “If Santa Claus can deliver to houses, why can’t we?”
Staff called formerly incarcerated parents to find out the ages and needs of the children in the households.
Staff created coloring and Christmas-themed craft packages. Partners at the Washington State Department of Social and Health Services hosted a toy drive. Karen Adams, a retired Department of Corrections field administrator baked batches of cookies for each family.
Everett CJC employees James Burdette, Deb Soren, Justin Roundy and Cherie Banks dressed as Santa and Elves, put on medical masks, loaded up a van and made porch deliveries of the holiday packages. All together, 70 children received toys and holiday packages from corrections staff.
“It was so nice to see such happy faces and see the difference we as a department brought to families,” said Banks, who is a community corrections supervisor. “One grandmother was in tears and when she found out we were from the Department of Corrections she asked to take our photo. We truly felt like Santa’s helpers this year and seeing the joy the holiday season brings is truly what it’s all about.”
Connections through the Mail
Between Thanksgiving and Christmas, the facilities supplied materials for incarcerated individuals to make ornaments and cards to send to their families.
Men housed at Monroe’s Minimum Security, Special Offender, Twin Rivers, and Washington State Reformatory units participated. Over eight days, Monroe took 474 pictures of incarcerated individuals to send home to their family members.
Incarcerated individuals at Monroe also came up with the idea for an event they named “Let’s Stay Connected.” Using strips of paper and other craft materials, incarcerated fathers made customized daily activities and wrote letters and positive affirmations for their kids. Some of the packets were sent to children who lived as far away as Canada, England and Taiwan.
At OCC, 27 incarcerated men sent cards and handmade ornaments from paper, wood and beads to family members.
“It was a hit,” said OCC’s Public Information Officer, Darla DePew. “Some were not sure of their crafting abilities until after they got going. What I heard from the population was that knowing their family and friends were excited to receive a heartfelt message, it meant a lot to all.”
Shining from the Inside
Stafford Creek Corrections Center (SCCC) outside Aberdeen had a ‘giving tree.’
Shine from the Inside, a local fundraiser committee at SCCC, created in raises money to donate to local charities. The committee is comprised of several incarcerated individuals who represent the Stafford Creek incarcerated population. The committee supplies a variety of specialty items not typically available to the residents at Stafford Creek. Items like ice cream, soda, pizza, doughnuts, and pies can be purchased through vendors throughout the year. Proceeds from this group, combined with donations from prison staff are donated to local charities that serve low-income families in Grays Harbor County.
Salina Brown, public information officer for Stafford Creek, contacts local school districts to find families to sponsor.
The Shine from the Inside committee was able to sponsor three local families, including an 18-year-old single mother trying to finish high school while raising her 3-year-old daughter. The families received bicycles, scooters, and a laptop.
Treats, Videos and More
Family councils are made up of family members of incarcerated individuals, prison superintendent and visit program support staff. They advise, collaborate, problem solve and work with the department and the community to strengthen family and community connections, allow families to give input on policy, talk about ways to improve life quality for those incarcerated and address local and statewide issues impacting family members of incarcerated individuals.
Prison staff played the DVD on the facility’s TV channel throughout the holiday season.
At Mission Creek Corrections Center, the state’s other women’s prison, incarcerated residents made paper ‘Trees of Thanks” for Thanksgiving with positive affirmations and leaves scrolled with things each woman was thankful for. For Christmas, incarcerated mothers made picture frame ornaments for their children. A total of 71 women participated between the activities.
In King County, the South Seattle Unit collected and distributed non-perishable food items for individuals on community supervision to help families make a holiday dinner. South Seattle Unit staff made 60 food packages for clients that included boxes of stuffing, instant potatoes, gravy and corn muffin mixes, canned vegetables and fruits and a gingerbread house kit.
A correctional officer at Washington Corrections Center, who wished to be an anonymous donor, saved money from working more than 300 hours of overtime over the year and donated his extra earnings to the Saints’ Pantry Food Bank in Shelton and Thurston County Food Bank.
Staff at other facilities, including Washington Corrections Center, Airway Heights Corrections Center, Olympic Corrections Center and Washington State Penitentiary assembled goody bags for incarcerated individuals. The bags were filled with candy, cocoa packets and items not frequently available in commissary. Many treat bags also came with extra personal hygiene items.
Prison staff report the bags were well-received and shared a kite (note) an incarcerated individual wrote:
“Thank you for the Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve Treats. More importantly, thank you call for your steadfast dedication and diligence in doing the best you could do in keeping inmates as safe and as healthy as possible throughout this mindboggling pandemic of 2020. May this upcoming year ease tension and provide healing for us all. You are appreciated.”