Prison ministry broadens its reach with seasonal gifts

Sisters fill gift bags for prisoners with personal hygiene items and snacks. From left in back of photo (seated at the table) are Sisters of Charity of Leavenworth Jane Jackson, Mary Laura Huddleston, Kathleen Wood and Mary Lex Smith; coming forward from the back of the line, standing, are Sisters Kevin Marie Flynn, Mary Patricia Murry and Regina Deitchman; Father Dennis Schaab, CPPS; and Sisters Jean Lind and Lucy Walter. PHOTO BY THERESE HORVAT

by Therese Horvat
Special to The Leaven

LANSING — What started small with three helpers over 25 years ago has continued as a regular and faithful ministry of 20 volunteers, approximately 12 of whom meet every Wednesday with inmates of the Lansing Correctional Facility here. 

In two different sections of the prison, inmates and volunteers pray, sing and study Scripture together in preparation for the upcoming weekend liturgy. Frequently, one of the priest volunteers offers Mass. 

Seven years ago at the request of the prison volunteer coordinator, the Bethany Prison Ministry expanded its reach beyond the 40-plus inmates served by these “Catholic call-outs.” The group assumed responsibility for a seasonal project to provide gift bags for inmates who are indigent. 

This year, with the help of generous donors, nearly 400 inmates will receive Christmas gift bags that include essential items and some holiday extras — all from lists pre-approved by prison officials. 

George Steger, who has been part of Bethany Prison Ministry since its inception, explains that the prison defines “indigent” as those inmates who have no source of outside income. They receive $20 a month from the state for essentials. 

“This amount doesn’t go very far in purchasing needed personal hygiene items,” said Steger. 

Because of this, there’s high demand — along with great appreciation — for the Christmas gift bags provided by Bethany Prison Ministry. The bags include soap, shampoo, deodorant, toothpaste, toothbrush, dental floss and a comb. And there’s more: coffee, creamer, cocoa, crackers, candy and other treats. 

Plus, Dan Dakotas and Ruth Schukman- Dakotas, volunteers and artists, design a bookmark that each inmate receives. George, Dan and Ruth are associates of the Sisters of Charity of Leavenworth.

Critical to the impact of this corporal work of mercy are the many people who support it. 

“It’s wonderful how people bend over backwards to help us,” said Steger. 

Major support comes from St. Francis de Sales Parish and its Knights of Columbus council, Lansing, and the Sisters of Charity of Leavenworth. A woman’s group of Sacred Heart Parish, Shawnee, purchases the toothpaste. 

This year, other large benefactors included the Benedictine Sisters of Mount St. Scholastica in Atchison, the Missionaries of the Precious Blood in  Liberty, Missouri, and the Serra Clubs of Kansas City.

An assembly line of volunteers and friends of the prison ministry filled and secured the bags on Dec. 4 at the Sisters of Charity motherhouse. On Dec. 7, Bethany Prison Ministry team members delivered the bags to the correctional facility. 

Prison staff takes it from there, distributing the gifts to inmates, many of whom don’t have regular visitors or receive phone calls or mail.     

“It’s all very heartwarming,” said Steger, “and reflective of what Christmas is all about.”    

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