Angel Tree reaches more than 400,000 American children of prisoners and their families

Many prisoners lose everything when they become incarcerated. Left behind are families and innocent children. At Christmas time, the sense of helplessness and hopelessness is palpable in the prison as mothers and fathers feel the utter sense of disconnection from their children. When the money is not there to buy presents for their kids and when the parent cannot be there to share Christmas with their children, Prison Fellowship’s Angel Tree Program steps in and fills the void. While I was fortunate to have the resources to not have to use the program, I was incredibly touched to witness the relief and joy it brought to the men I lived with in prison. The Angel Tree program directly inspired the Everyman Christmas Program in Panama.

—Gerald Henry


The same year that Chuck Colson started Prison Fellowship, a former bank robber named Mary Kay Beard was released from prison in Alabama.

And as in Chuck's life, God graciously transformed the shame of prison into a golden opportunity for ministry. In anticipation of Christmas 1982, Mary Kay organized Angel Tree - a ministry to provide gifts to prisoners' children on behalf of the incarcerated parents.

Beginning with 556 children the first year, Angel Tree has since exploded into a geyser of ministry opportunity, reaching more than 400,000 American children of prisoners and their families every year with the transforming message of Jesus Christ.

Six Million Children Served

Over the past 27 years, the cumulative number of prisoners’ children served by Angel Tree in the U.S. is six million!

How Angel Tree Works

Every Christmas, Prison Fellowship’s Angel Tree program helps imprisoned moms and dads connect with their children.

How? By providing gifts to the children on behalf of their parents in prison. Each gift comes with a personal message from mom or dad.

This Christmas, Angel Tree will reach about 400,000 children of prisoners with gifts and the Gospel. In most cases, these children will be served directly by churches in their own communities who will make a personal connection through home visits or church-sponsored Christmas parties.

Each year children who live in areas where no church has volunteered to personally deliver a gift and the Gospel are left wondering if mom or dad remembered them this Christmas.

Angel Tree doesn’t want them to miss out on receiving Christmas gifts from their parent. Angel Tree is able to offer the opportunity to still connect a child to their mommy or daddy.

Volunteers sponsor a prisoner’s child in an area that is unmatched with a local church. The donation ensures that two gifts are shipped to the child, along with the Gospel message and a personal message from the incarcerated parent.

The Impact of Angel Tree on Real Lives:

Joe Avila’s daughters, Elizabeth and Grace, were six and ten years old when he went away to prison for almost seven years. Today Elizabeth is in college, and Grace is in high school. At a recent Angel Tree event, they spoke about why Angel Tree means so much to them.

Elizabeth: “One of the hardest things was that we were such a close family. I was about to turn 11. And through high school and junior high, I was a cheerleader, so Dad missed my cheerleading at games and competitions. And my first date.

It was hardest around birthdays and holidays and especially Christmas. When he wasn’t there it was hard, especially for my mom.”

Grace: “I was so young when my dad was away. In my elementary years, he missed my school functions and my soccer games. What made it especially hard was when I would see my friends with their fathers—most of them had fathers—at the soccer games and the practices.

“And Christmas was very hard, because every Christmas we went to church together for a special dinner. When Angel Tree began, it was so much better because you’d get a gift.”

Elizabeth: “We had the Angel Tree process explained to us beforehand. We knew what was coming, because my dad told us that we’d all be getting a gift for Christmas. But over the years we received them several different ways. We’d go to parties at the church, which was fun, but some of the best times were when someone personally delivered the gifts. Not only would we see the love from our dad, but we’d see the love from someone we didn’t know—a complete stranger. I felt completely unforgotten. People remembered.”

Grace: “I remember one Christmas when about six volunteers came over. I was with my friends—they all knew about my Dad and where he was. And my friends were surprised to see me get these gifts from him. We had this big party, and my mom made apple cider . . . it was just a fun time. And it wouldn’t have happened without Angel Tree. I’m very thankful.”

Mary Kay Beard, founder of Angel Tree, was a safecracker,
a bank robber, and one of America’s Most Wanted. Arrested in June of 1972, she quickly collected 11 federal indictments and 35 charges against her. But her 180-year sentence turned into a six-year sentence—during which time she asked God to change her hardened heart.

Read the Heart-Warming Story




There are 1.5 million children of prisoners.

Every one of these children has a story. For many, that story is filled with the abandonment, loneliness, and the shame that can come from having a mom or dad in prison. For many, it may also include following their parents down the same destructive road to incarceration.

  • 7.3 million children have a parent under some form of correctional supervision.
  • 22 percent of children with a parent in prison are under 5 years old; The majority of children are under 10; The average age is 8.
  • One in five children is present at their mother's arrest.

Angel Tree’s Position:

At Angel Tree, we find ways to reach out to children: By sharing Christ's love with them at Christmas and by developing year-round relationships.

In the end, it's so much more than giving Christmas gifts

It's about restoring families.


The Angel Tree Resource Center is designed to help you learn more and share more about Angel Tree.

The information on this resource page was obtained from the Angel Tree web site. We urge you to visit this web site and to connect with this extraordinary organization.

  • Resources for Christmas
  • Shop for Angel Tree Gifts
  • Resources for Area Coordinators
  • Resources for Going Beyond Christmas
    • - Camping Materials & Tools
    • - Mentoring Materials & Tools
    • - Family Embraced