Fact Sheet: Angel Tree

The Only Nationwide, Year-Round Effort that Reaches out Exclusively to the 2.7 Million Children in America with a Father or Mother Behind Bars
Christmas Gifts | Summer Camping | Mentoring


By mobilizing churches and organizations throughout the United States, Prison Fellowship's Angel Tree works to provide prisoners' children with Christmas gifts and much more by encouraging the local church's year-round involvement in the lives of prisoners' children.  

Angel Tree begins with a gift at Christmas but extends to a year-round effort—including camping and mentoring opportunities—that link the children of prisoners to a local church congregation to help break the intergenerational cycle of crime and bring reconciliation and hope to families split by incarceration. Thousands of families from churches across the nation sponsor prisoners' children to provide much-needed love and assistance that is given on behalf of their incarcerated parent. 

  • Approximately 22 percent—more than 300,000 annually—of all children of incarcerated parents in the United States receive Christmas gifts through Angel Tree program each year.

  • Each year, volunteers from more than 7,000 churches nationwide help brighten Christmas for children at home while their parents are in prison.

  • During the past 34 years, Angel Tree volunteers have delivered more than 10 million gifts to children on behalf of their incarcerated parents.

  • Prison Fellowship's Angel Tree has expanded to connect the children of prisoners to a local congregation year-round, providing a variety of activities throughout the year such as summer camping and mentoring.

  • Since 2001, some 75,000 children of prisoners have attended summer camps through Angel Tree program.

  • Since a mentoring component was established in 2004, more than 5,000 children have been mentored through Angel Tree program.


Reaching Out to At-Risk Children of Prisoners 

By every measure, prisoners' children are some of the most severely at-risk children and youth in America:

  • Some 2.7 million children have an incarcerated parent in the United States (The Pew Charitable Trusts, 2010. Collateral Costs: Incarceration's Effect on Economic Mobility, Washington).

  • Having an incarcerated parent often results in school behavior and performance problems as well as social stigma and shame (Vulnerability of Children of Incarcerated Addict Mothers: Implications for Preventive Intervention, Children and Youth Services Review, 2005).

Prison Fellowship's Angel Tree reaches out to help prisoners' children deal with the anger, hurt and disappointment they may feel because of their parents' incarceration.

In addition to lowering the likelihood of recidivism among incarcerated parents, there is evidence that maintaining the child-parent relationship while a parent is incarcerated improves a child’s emotional response to the incarceration and encourages the parent-child bond. At the same time, it provides strong motivation for an incarcerated parent to seek a new path for their lives (Examining the Effect of Incarceration and In-Prison Family Contact on Prisoners' Family Relationships, Journal of Contemporary Criminal Justice, 2005).


How Angel Tree Works

Throughout the summer, inmates are given the opportunity to sign their children up to receive Christmas gifts given by volunteers on the incarcerated parents' behalf. Angel Tree volunteers then contact the children's caregivers to solicit their gift wishes. Leading up to Christmas, each child's name and gift wishes are written on paper angels and hung on Christmas trees placed in participating churches. Volunteer families and individuals purchase and wrap the gifts and either deliver the gifts personally or host a party where the gifts are distributed to all the children sponsored within their church. Each child receives a toy, recreational item or clothing item to enjoy.

Once relationships between the local church and a prisoner's child are established at Christmas, year-round initiatives are encouraged through Angel Tree. These activities include mentoring, which enables mature Christian adults to invest in the lives of at-risk children, and summer camping, which gives children a positive, fun experience in an environment that promotes physical, emotional and spiritual health. Additionally, the church is encouraged to reach out to families through their existing ministries.

Every year, Angel Tree does its best to match each prisoner's child with a nearby church. But each Christmas, thousands of requests come in for children who live in isolated or rural areas where an Angel Tree church is not available, as well as more urban areas where more church support is needed. Many churches not located near Angel Tree families are willing to purchase gifts if volunteers through a local church are available to deliver them to the family. Church partnering is another opportunity for Angel Tree to connect incarcerated parents with their children at Christmas.


The History of Prison Fellowship's Angel Tree

In 1982, Angel Tree debuted in Birmingham, Alabama, when Mary Kay Beard, an ex-prisoner, received permission to erect Christmas trees in shopping malls to recruit shoppers to purchase presents for prisoners' children. Beard, who served part of a 22-year sentence for burglary, grand larceny and robbery, spent six Christmases in a state prison watching women gather soap, shampoo and toothpaste received from charity groups and wrap them as Christmas gifts for their children.

"I realized that children don’t care as much about things as they do about being loved," said Beard. 

In Angel Tree's first year, Prison Fellowship volunteers distributed Christmas gifts to 556 children in Alabama.

To find out how to get involved with Angel Tree, call 1-800-55-ANGEL (1-800-552-6435) or visit www.angeltree.org.