Making Christmas a little brighter

Susan Reid's young offenders class is leading the Christmas for Kids campaign at St. Thomas University. (Jordan MacDonald/AQ)

Monty Lewis was lying naked in a jail cell when he hit rock bottom.

“A voice was telling me, ‘End it all, kill yourself, murder yourself, take your life.’”

That’s when a volunteer from the Salvation Army told him about God. It’s been 35 years and he hasn’t looked back since.

Lewis is the director and founder of Bridges of Canada, a Christian organization that supports inmates and their families.

The group buys gifts for children with parents behind bars.

It’s called Christmas for Kids and this year, St. Thomas University criminology students are lending a hand.

This is Sabrina Lafleur’s first year with Christmas for Kids. She is one of the criminology students spearheading STU’s campaign.

They plan to run a toy drive and collect loose change, which will pay for gifts of sponsored children. They are also working to reach out to the campus community and get more students involved.

Lafleur said children are often overlooked as victims of imprisonment.

“The offender is not the only person that is punished when they are incarcerated, it is the innocent children that are involved. This organization allows us to bring the children that much closer to their parents when they are given a present from that missing parent.”

Susan Reid is a criminology professor at STU and teaches the young offenders class, which is leading the campaign.

She’s been involved in Christmas for Kids for nearly five years and said she’s touched by student support and enthusiasm.

“This year I said to them, I’ll give you bonus points, but you know what, the people who really do this are really not in need of bonus points and they kind of agreed [with] me. That says a whole lot about the students that we have.”

Bridges of Canada is based out of Fredericton, but partners with prisons all over Canada and throughout the world.

Lewis said he expects to leave over 800 presents under the tree this year.

He struggled with drug addictions and floated in and out of jail for 16 years and knows first-hand the struggles of being away from family members.

“I realized that all the men I hung around with in prison had the same dream inside of them as me to have a home, a family and to carry a lunch can. But just like me, they didn’t know how to get it.”

He said all children deserve to open a present on Christmas morning, no matter where it comes from.

“You’re trying to build family while they’re apart…it’s nice when you’re a little child and your neighbours are opening their gifts from their daddy for you to say, ‘Look what my daddy sent me.’”

The toy drive allows children to have a connection with their parents, even if they can’t be together.

“We send the gifts to the children not from you or not from our organization, but from the parent. So, it gives the child and the parent some
dignity.”

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