More Than a Toy Story
For the Least of Us keeps kids of incarcerated parents close year-round, closer during the holidays.
Wednesday, November 21, 2012
It’s been five years since Phoebe and Dylan spent Christmas with their father. He’s in prison, and their mother is hardly around, their grandmother says.
So it meant a lot to them last year when complete strangers surprised the then – 10-year-old and 6-year-old with Christmas presents – a remote-control helicopter for him, and a Barbie doll for her.
The pair were among the dozens of children of incarcerated parents who received gifts at Carmel Presbyterian Church’s Angel Tree party. Angel Tree, a national effort of the Prison Fellowship Ministry, is supported in Carmel by For the Least of Us, a participant in this year’s Monterey County Gives!
The organization was founded in 2008 by Bill and Pam Ziering, after one of the families in their church had a loved one go to prison.
“Both my husband and I realized that this was a great calling for us to come alongside and comfort someone and give them strength to endure a great tragedy they were having in their life,” says Pam Ziering.
The name For the Least of Us refers to a Biblical verse: “Inasmuch as you have done it to one of the least of these my brothers, you have done it to me.”
Since its inception the nonprofit has been able to get presents for children of 150 families. But Angel Tree is only part of the nonprofit’s work.
Each year For the Least of Us connects with about 25 families who have loved ones in prison, and helps them with everything from purchasing food and paying bills to finding shelter.
“This man that I met last December has taken a lot of interest in my family, and it’s incredible,” Clara Peter, Phoebe and Dylan’s grandmother, says of Bill Ziering.
Peter is the pair’s caretaker. Her other grandson lives with a family friend in Monterey. For the Least of Us has taken an active role in the families’ lives, even providing money to help feed the kids.
Peter met the Zierings at the Angel Tree Christmas party at the Carmel Presbyterian Church.
For the Least of Us is also in touch with the Phoebe and Dylan’s father, who is set to be released from prison in a few months. With the help of the nonprofit, the father will be entering a halfway house and then hopefully will be reunited with his kids, Peter says.
In some ways, For the Least of Us acts as a middleman for families that need help, taking calls for referrals from nonprofits, churches and even jails
With the approximately $18,000 a year the group brings in, it can immediately release cash for an emergency, or use its network to connect people to places like shelters. And, Bill Ziering adds, none of the funds go to pay salaries because there’s no paid staff.
“I think it’s a great program because it helps families in need to get back on their feet and get on the right track instead of being a burden to society,” Peter says.
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