As we move into the holiday season, it is a time for thinking about how to give back in a way that is impactful. This is especially true as many of us worry about the state of our communities and our country. There are, of course, wonderful national organizations like the Equal Justice Initiative (challenging injustice in the criminal justice system), the ACLU (defending First Amendment rights), and the Southern Poverty Law Center (battling hate crimes and racial and social injustice) that are worthy of our support. But for those who want to do something more personal and intimate, here are a few ideas for meaningful, smaller scale, non-traditional giving opportunities.
Gifts for Incarcerated Mothers to Give to Their Children:
The United States has dealt with a national drug addiction epidemic, in large part, by incarcerating addicts, particularly women. The stats are alarming: Two-thirds of women in state prisons are there for nonviolent offenses; our country incarcerates eight times as many women as it did in 1980; and worldwide, only Thailand imprisons women at a higher rate. Sixty percent of the women in prison have children under the age of 18. Helping an incarcerated woman connect and bring joy to her child this holiday season is a simple and beautiful gift.
With that in mind, consider participating in the 3rd annual gift/toy drive in solidarity with incarcerated moms and their kids. Over the last two years, several organizations – Moms United Against Violence and Incarceration, Chicago Legal Advocacy for Incarcerated Mothers/CGLA, and Nehemiah Trinity Rising – have raised over 2,800 gift donations so that moms at women’s prisons, transition facilities, and Cook County Jail (Chicago) could give holiday gifts directly to their kids during visits. For many of these kids, this is the only holiday gift they receive, and this is a unique chance for their mom to do something special for them. Donating could not be easier. This link sends you to an Amazon wish list of inexpensive toys that you can have shipped directly to the gift drive organizers. The toy gifts can help a child suffering the loss of a parent during the holidays to feel more connected.
Gifts for Jailed Youth:
Our country’s bail system is a mess, ignoring the fundamental maxim that a person is innocent until proven guilty. When a defendant is charged with a crime, a judge or magistrate typically sets a price tag on freedom for that person while he or she awaits trial. If the accused cannot afford to pay bond, she must stay in jail for however long it takes until the charges are heard or dismissed. And even if the court forgoes bail, there is still a stint in jail while waiting for that ruling. Some of the people waiting in jail are children.
Every night over 300 children and youth spend the night at the Cook County Juvenile Temporary Detention Center (Chicago). A gift drive for the incarcerated youth at that facility seeks inexpensive art supplies to be given as presents to young people incarcerated over the holidays. Again, an Amazon wish list makes contributing incredibly easy.
Books for Incarcerated Youth:
Liberation Library provides books to youth in prison to encourage imagination, self-determination and connection to the outside world. Liberation Library believes access to books is a right, not a privilege. It believes that books and relationships empower young people to change the criminal justice system. So, as you’re doing your holiday shopping, peruse their book wish list and consider buying a child a book. Help that child imagine a different world and a different future, and be a part of the change.
This year, I am supporting the people our criminal justice system has discarded. Many of these people have made mistakes, though often society let them down long before their mistakes were made. Regardless, these people are sons, daughters, mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers. Recognizing their humanity through a simple gift is a gift to yourself as well. Please feel free to share in the blog comments section other causes that will help improve the lives of people in our communities. There are so many organizations out there doing important work that we can support. Happy holidays