Sally and Latasha Heath havenít seen their mother, Marilyn, in more than a year.
She is at the Metro State Prison in Atlanta, relatives said. The girls live with their grandmother, Sallie Council, on Libby Drive.
"I think of her," said Sally, 11, who misses playing with her mom.
Even though Ms. Heath wonít be released until next year, the sisters received Christmas gifts from her Wednesday, courtesy of Gospel Cathedral. The gifts are part of Angel Tree - an affiliate of Prison Ministry Fellowship - which provides Christmas presents nationwide to children whose parents are incarcerated.
"The whole message behind this is to try to establish the relationship between the imprisoned parent and the child," said Joanne Rowsam, the Angel Tree coordinator for Church of the Holy Comforter. "To know that the parent is still thinking about them even though they may not be there."
Angel Tree started in Birmingham, Ala., in 1982 when former prisoner Mary Kay Beard erected Christmas trees in shopping malls to recruit shoppers to purchase gifts for inmatesí children. Ms. Beard had served part of a 22-year sentence in state prison for robbery and grand larceny.
While in prison, she saw fellow inmates gather soap, shampoo and toothpaste donated by charity groups to give to their children as gifts.
| Kevin Hatcher (from right) and Bobbie Lee visit 2-year-old twins Tykedra and Rhykeria Rolland and their mother, Natasha, at their home. Ms. Lee and Mr. Hatcher gave the girls presents from their imprisoned father.
ANDREW DAVIS TUCKER/STAFF|
Today, incarcerated parents are giving their children gifts with help from volunteers beyond the prison walls.
A parent can register any child 16 years or younger. The request is presented as an angel tag to volunteers and churches. The volunteer or church member buys two presents costing $15 to $20 each.
The child receives a clothing gift and a fun toy. Although the volunteer buys the item, the child is told the gift is from the parent.
According to Prison Fellowship in Atlanta, about 11 churches in Augusta take part in the program annually. This is the first year for Macedonia Baptist Church, said Pam Baker, who coordinates the churchís singles ministry.
The group handed out gifts, mainly clothing, to children Saturday during a holiday party at the church on Wrightsboro Road. Ms. Baker said the gifts make a big difference to the children.
"It wasnít so much about what it cost, itís just, íI got a present,"í she said. "So many young people today suffer and miss out because that parent is not there."
Angela Veale, a member of Gospel Cathedral, purchased a $25 gift card for Sally and Latasha Heath.
| Mrs. Rolland helps her daughter Rhykeria as she tries on a new coat she received from her father through the Angel Tree program.
ANDREW DAVIS TUCKER/STAFF|
"A lot of times these children get a stigma about themselves because of their parents," Ms. Veale said. "(This) really encourages them."
The other parent or guardian also is grateful that someone is taking interest in their child.
Natasha Rolland received dolls and jackets Thursday for twin girls, Rhykeriaand Tykedra. The gifts came from their father, Darrick Washington.
"Itíll make a big Christmas," she said. "They have toys, but they needed coats real bad."
Reach Albert Ross Jr. at (706) 823-3339 or firstname.lastname@example.org.