NEW ROCHELLE, NY -- This past holiday season, more than 100 boys and girls whose parents are serving prison time received Christmas gifts from New Rochelle High School, thanks to the efforts of the Black Culture Club.
The project was the brainchild of Rachel Motley, a junior and a member of the club, who has a deep interest in criminal justice reform. Motley wanted to work on a holiday project that combined Christmas cheer and the prison population. So, when she learned about the Prison Fellowship's Angel Tree program, she knew it was the right choice.
The program helps meet the physical, emotional and spiritual needs of the families of prisoners, especially children
Motley reached out to Angel Tree and received the names of approximately 100 children who were in need of gifts for Christmas. She then approached the Black Culture Club for help in making the children's wish list a reality.
The Black Culture Club's outreach to the high school community received an overwhelming response. Teachers and students quickly divided the list among themselves, and soon the club began receiving shopping bag after shopping bag of gifts. Some teachers shopped for children in multiple families, said Laurie Collins-Thomas, advisor to the club.
The gifts ranged from balls for different sports and board games to expensive items like a Fitbit and an American Girl doll. The recipients live across New York State, including Queens, Rochester, Buffalo and Elmira, as well as Connecticut, Massachusetts and Maine.
Members of the Black Culture Club spent hours after school and during their lunch break, calling the homes of the children to confirm their addresses, wrapping the gifts and then shipping them. The club raised a portion of the cost of shipping, and Principal Reggie Richardson picked up the remainder of the expense, Collins-Thomas said.
Part of the beauty of the Angel Tree program is that the children receiving the gifts believe they are coming from their parents, said Motley.
"Not being able to see your parents every day is so heartbreaking," said Motley, who lost her mother at 6. "It felt good to be able to give to the children, and to make them happy."