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Published: Tuesday, 12/5/2000

Stores gather gifts donated for children of inmates

ARCHBOLD - Shoppers have been coming into a gift store in this Fulton County village and leaving something behind: a toy, a shirt, a football.

The donated Christmas gifts will later be in the hands of a child whose father, or mother, is away in prison.

“It's a real way we can do something good for those kids, and be helpful to prisoners, their parents,” said Sharon Lantz, owner of the Candy Cane Christmas Shop and Unique Little Gift Shops in Archbold and Defiance.

Donated presents are left at sites in northwest Ohio and Indiana and will be distributed to children by the Prison Fellowship, a national Christian group that helps inmates' families. A Fort Wayne radio station organizes the collections.

It is the ninth annual collection by WBCL Radio Network for the Prison Fellowship's Angel Tree.

Fellowship volunteers will hand gifts to families where parents are incarcerated, said Terry Foss, a station spokeswoman. Last year the station's goal was 8,500 gifts; it received 12,500 items.

“We met all the needs of northeast Indiana and those of the Ohio Prison Fellowship, and had extra gifts to send to Detroit, Chicago, and New York City, which did not have enough,'' she said.

The goal this year is 10,000 donated gifts, she said.

Mrs. Lantz has lent her stores as collection sites for several years and said she is amazed at people's generosity.

“Last year, I hauled away two completely filled vanloads and several vans partly filled,” she said.

“We get donated toys, watches, basketballs, footballs, dolls, teddy bears, a lot of sweatshirts and clothing - all things that children will enjoy,” Mrs. Lantz said.

One faithful gift donor is a former prisoner, Ms. Foss said.

“He told me when he was in prison for more than five years he appreciated it very much when he couldn't give his kids anything, but the fellowship did. It meant a lot to his kids,'' she said.

Churches and various organizations carry out the Prison Fellowship's Angel Tree project. Members pick names and shop for children. The radio station fills the gap when not all names are picked or when inmates have been jailed after a July gift sign-up deadline.

“It's more than a one-time contact. The fellowship keeps in contact with families all year long,” Ms. Foss said. “Children of prisoners are six times more likely to commit crime than other kids, according to studies. We hope this project helps break the cycle and show kids that love and caring works, and life does not have to be despairing.''

In Lima, gifts are collected at MPS Weight Loss and Wellness center. Officials were overwhelmed with the response, said Barb Schade, executive assistant.

“We're in a medical building, and many clients contributed,” she said, and “people came in off the street with gifts. It was a great joy to see and we were happy to be included again.”

Ms. Schade said Nancy Downhour, the president of MPS, which has sites in Lima, Findlay, Sidney, O., and Fort Wayne, believes strongly in supporting work that helps the less fortunate.

Donations of presents can be made through Dec. 20.

New, unwrapped gifts can be dropped off in Unique Little Gift Shops in Archbold and Defiance, the Candy Cane Christmas Shop north of Archbold, the MPS Weight Loss and Wellness center in Lima, Celina Moving & Warehousing in Celina, and all 13 First Federal Bank branches in northwest Ohio.



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