Willow Creek Church assembled 70,000 Christmas gift packs for every inmate incarcerated in Illinois. This was the third year Willow Creek has been involved with reaching prisoners through the holiday program. Last year, church members packed 32,000 care packages. This year, they expanded to include every prisoner in Illinois.
Pastor Bill Hybels said, “We wanted to inject a little hope and wanted to give them a gift with meaning.”
Church members joyfully filled and packed paper bags with small gifts to send to inmates. The 70,000 prison packs were prayed over during weekend services at Willow Creek.
The Chicago Tribune wrote, “Hybels said church members and elders began talking then about trying to expand the program with the goal of sending a Christmas package to every prisoner in Illinois whose facility would allow it.
Working with the chaplains at the Illinois Department of Corrections, Krispy Kreme and a publishing company, Willow Creek organized the expanded program, using money exclusively from church offerings to buy the treats, cards, supplies and reading materials. State prison officials preapproved the contents and materials of the packages. Federal prisoners are not allowed to receive them, the church said.”
Pastor Heather Larson said the reading materials are “focused on grace and hope and love, the idea that nothing can separate us from the love of God.”
Jennifer Vollen-Katz, the executive director of the nonprofit John Howard Association of Illinois said, “No one is expecting something grandiose, just things that are useful for them and thoughtful gestures that indicate they’re not forgotten,” Vollen-Katz said. “So many inmates come from families that don’t have the resources. To be thought of and remembered means a lot. I think it is evidence of humanity. It’s people remembering that those we’re incarcerating are human beings, locked up far away from their families, unable to celebrate the holidays at all.”
A Willow Creek Church press release stated, “Burl Cain, warden of Angola State Prison, once the bloodiest prison in the nation, spoke at weekend services and encouraged the church in its efforts. ‘This little package you’re putting together has far greater impact than you can imagine,’ he said.
The church also donated $50,000 to Angola State Prison to assist in its seminary training program that is supported entirely by private donations.”
Pastor Steve Carter reminded the congregation of this important message, “Remember those who are in prison, as though in prison with them, and those who are mistreated, since you also are in the body.” (Hebrews 13:3)