Unity in the Family Ministry (UIFM) held its annual Angel Tree Christmas celebration this past Saturday, December 16th , at First Baptist Church in Warrington. Dr. Calvin Avant, the CEO and Pastor of UIFM, stated that this 14th anniversary of the annual event was by far the best of all. The Angel Tree volunteers provided the services that made the celebration a smooth managed affair for the families in attendance. The sponsorships reached a new level of support as in all kinds of gifts, financial commitments, food; in addition to their volunteering their time and effort.
The Angel Tree Christmas celebration is an outreach of UIFM to assist the children of parents who are incarcerated in the State of Florida and Federal Prison Systems experience the true spirit of Christmas with a short sermon, with emphasis on Jesus being the “reason for the season”, gifts and a dinner. UIFM gives the gift as a present from their parent. That additional special touch makes the event very special in the minds of the youth as they are left with the emotion that their dad or mom cares for them no matter what the family is going through.
In an interview with the Gulf Coast Voice, Dr. Avant wanted to thank the many sponsors who gave with the Christmas spirit. He asked the Voice to spotlight the following sponsors: Epps Christian Center, Revelation Ministries, House of God Church, First Baptist Church of Warrington, Gulf Power, Wal-Mart Foundation, Sam’s Club, Pensacola’s Blue Whaoos, Wind Creek Casino and Hotel, Hiles-McLeod, Penske Truck and Leasing, Rooms to Go, Wells Fargo Bank, Wal-Mart (Store 21 on Highway 29), Lane Masters Bowling League, COX Communications, Cole’s Wings & Things, Publix, Popeyes, Pensacola Caring Hearts, Masters Barber Shop, Escambia County Charter School, John Taite Odds and Ends Fashions, and the Bingo Halls Beachside, Paradise, and Big Top.
The history of the event began in 1982 at shopping malls in Birmingham, Alabama when a former inmate, Mary Kay Beard, received permission to reach out to shoppers to purchase presents for the children of incarcerated parents. Beard was motivated by what she witnessed during the time she served in prison. She served part of a 22 year sentence for burglary, grand larceny, and robbery spending six Christmases in a state prison. She saw charity groups send soap, shampoo, and toothpaste to her inmates and then watched them wrap those items and send them to their children. That first Angel Tree in Birmingham distributed gifts to 556 children. Unity in the Family Ministry and Prison Fellowship Ministries now carry out that same loving legacy to the children of Pensacola and Escambia County.