Former female inmates from Massachusetts are receiving a little extra help this holiday season, thanks to St. John’s Episcopal Church of Ashfield, according to the Christian Post.
The congregation started a ministry called “Love in a Backpack” that supplies former inmates with three bags of items packed into a backpack. One bag contains personal care items and toiletries; another, food and water; and a third, a Bible and a hand-written note of encouragement.
“We have experienced the joy of doing God’s work through our hands, serving the women most in need during a fragile and scary transition time,” said Mary Link, who helps lead the ministry. “Several other churches and groups have partnered with us each year, helping us increase the number of backpacks we can pull together to provide for the women. Some partners just collect packs or toiletries, others fill three or more whole packs.”
Women who are released from prison have little to live from. “She has the clothes on her back and a small stipend for transportation,” according to the ministry’s website.
“Love in a Backpack” began after the church discovered that former inmates struggled for basic needs after release from prison. A ministry existed for men but none for the women, so the church set to work. The first year, the group provided 32 backpacks. Both last year and this year, they have given 40 backpacks with the goal of doubling that amount to 80 in 2020.
Women from the Western Massachusetts Regional Women’s Correctional Center in Chicopee and the Franklin County House of Correction in Greenfield have benefitted from the backpacks. They’ve expressed gratitude for the ministry’s kindness, particularly for the hand-written note.
“With each pack, we include a cover letter and a handwritten note card that lets them know that although we may never meet, our small parish is praying for them and wishing them success, along with the practical items we hope are helpful,” Link said. “Of the women who write thank you notes to us, they share how much that note, the prayers, and faith we have in them means to them.”
Because the church has seen such a great need, they will hold a conference in March to address the issue of former inmates transitioning to a new life.
"Part of our goal," Link said, "is to increase awareness, compassion, and inspire others to take action as we have—either partnering with us on backpacks or finding their own callings."
Photo courtesy: Getty Images/Lincoln Beddoe
Mikaela Mathews is a freelance writer and editor based in Dallas, TX. She was the editor of a local magazine and a contributing writer for the Galveston Daily News and Spirit Magazine. She blogs at mikaelamathews.com.