TIGER-- Christmas is a time where families gather and parents can watch children open presents on Christmas morning.
But those who are incarcerated don’t have the opportunity to give their children gifts or be with them on Christmas morning.
The Rabun County Detention Center got into the holiday spirit and on Saturday helped hand out gifts to inmates’ children so that they could have a present to open that was gifted from their parents.
“So they wouldn’t miss out on a gift from their parents,” said Captain Beth Darnell, who oversees operations of the Rabun County Detention Center.
Family members of the inmates drove through the Sally Port at the detention center and collected the gifts and cookies handed out by the officers and inmate work detail.
“It is definitely a unique endeavor we took on this year,” said Sheriff Chad Nichols.
“By providing the inmates' children with a gift from their incarcerated loved one, it provided three different positives in this Christmas Season,” Nichols said. “First, the children received a toy from the inmate that they will have as a tangible item to keep while their loved one is incarcerated. Secondly, the inmate has a sense of pride that they were able to provide a gift to their child even though they may not be able to be with them on Christmas. Finally, this endeavor allows us to partner once again with the community to make this possible,” Nichols said.
The detention center has six pods and inmates from each pod decorated a poster as Christmas cards to their children.
The posters were hung in the Sally Port so the children could view them when they came to collect the gifts. There was a contest among the pods for the best Christmas card and C-Pod won with a colorful picture of candy canes, stockings and a fireplace.
Darnell said that the event was the brainchild of Officer Patti Saunders, who has been at the detention center for many years.
Saunders said that she’s had the idea for a while and they had the ability this year to make it happen.
Darnell said that officers collected the names, ages and gender of each of the inmates’ children and gave the list to the elders at Tabernacle Baptist Church so they could help buy the gifts.
Pastor John Hutcheson said that his church had just wrapped up Operation Christmas Child with Samaritan’s Purse ministries when he was contacted by Darnell about helping with the gift exchange.
Hutcheson said that he welcomed the opportunity to help those in need in the community.
He explained that God teaches “show to others the love He has shown us” and “you’ll be identified as my followers when you show love for one another.”
Hutcheson said this was the perfect opportunity to put that message to action and spread love to children who through no fault of their own could not be with their parents on Christmas.
He said that his congregation responded well to the idea of providing gifts and within a couple days they had a gift for every child.
“We saw that as an opportunity to love Christ by loving those who were hurting in our community,” Hutcheson said.
Saunders said that this was successful and that they plan to do it again next year.
The inmates showed appreciation to detention center staff for making it happen.
“We think it’s great,” said Joshua Arnold, who is part of the inmate work detail.
“Even though times are hard, it makes times easier having a great captain,” said Austin Groom, who is part of the inmate work detail.
Nichols and Darnell thanked John and Sarah Hutcheson at Tabernacle Baptist Church, Saunders and the jail staff who volunteered and coordinated the gift pickup.
“I pray everyone has a Merry Christmas and a blessed New Year,” Nichols said.