A group of volunteers with Abbotsford’s M2/W2 Association – Restorative Christian Ministries (M2/W2) prepared and delivered 75 gift bags to women at Alouette Correctional Centre for Women (ACCW) this past Tuesday (Dec. 15).
The bags were sewn by the volunteers and filled with toiletries, holiday treats, colouring books, pencil crayons, crosswords, and more.
They also included left a Christmas card for each woman, and a video of holiday greetings and songs.
“We make the bags every year,” said Linnea Groom, Volunteer Coordinator at M2/W2. “It’s so wonderful to make things special for people.
“I love being able to contribute to a little bit of joy.”
M2/W2 provides mentorship and practical support to people affected by incarceration, and has delivered the gift bags to ACCW since the prison opened in 2004.
In previous years, volunteers have presented a Christmas event for the women, however, as pandemic-related restrictions on visitors and volunteers programs continue, Groom didn’t expect there’d be a program.
She wasn’t even sure whether the gift bags would happen.
But in August, she was contacted by BC Corrections staff, who invited Groom to prepare the usual Christmas program—but in video format.
The institution also said the gift bags would be welcome.
The bags are made from cloth, and feature festive patterns and string-tied enclosures. The contents were pre-approved by BC Corrections and donated by Partners in Hope, a non-profit that has teamed up with M2/W2 on this project from the beginning.
“The women love the bags,” said Groom. “They use them throughout the year to store toiletries and letters.”
Raymond Robyn, M2/W2’s Executive Director pointed out how important it is the bags are made by hand.
“The efforts our volunteers put into finding the fabric, cutting and sewing the bags, and preparing the contents is a reflection of their compassion for the women at ACCW.”
Many of the women who sewed and prepared the gift bags are also volunteer mentors with M2/W2’s in-prison mentorship program.
Due to the pandemic, M2/W2’s in-prison mentorship program, along with other volunteer programs, has been suspended. In its absence, the organization has been encouraging volunteers to communicate through letters and phone calls, when possible.
Before the pandemic, over 200 M2/W2 volunteers were mentoring people at 13 federal and provincial institutions across BC. Through its programs, M2/W2 shares outside perspectives with people in prison and on parole, and supports them as they seek restoration, healing, and accountability. Many mentors and their matches form long-term friendships.
Prison can be a lonely place, especially at Christmas. This year many people are feeling isolated. The gift bags and Christmas video help maintain an important connection to the community.
One former inmate at ACCW described how it felt to open the bags.
“We got the chance to be like everyone else. We got a present and we knew it was given by women who cared about us and our well-being. It was a time to think about something different than the doldrums of prison life. You’d hear ‘Look what I got!’ or ‘I can sure use this,’ or ‘Smell this shampoo! It’s awesome!’ When you looked around you’d see the sparkle in eyes that were once dimmed by time.”
The volunteers look forward to returning to ACCW in person soon—hopefully by next Christmas—so they can continue to lift spirits and build mentoring relationships with the women incarcerated there.