What started small with three volunteers over 25 years ago has continued as a regular and faithful ministry with 20 volunteers, approximately 12 of whom meet every Wednesday with inmates of the Lansing Correctional Facility, Lansing, Kan. 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 beginning, 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,” George says.

At the end of the line, bags are tied with colorful ribbon. Left to right, Sisters Nancy Bauman, Jane Jackson, Mary Laura Huddleston and Kathleen Wood.

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 (SCLs).

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,” George says.

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, Kan., purchases the toothpaste. This year, other large benefactors included the Benedictine Sisters of Mount St. Scholastica, Atchison, Kan.; the Missionaries of the Precious Blood, Liberty, Mo.; and the Serra Clubs of Kansas City.

Participating in the gift bag assembly, from the Benedictine Sisters of Mount St. Scholastica, Atchison, left to right, Sisters Jennifer Halling, Mary Benedict Jacobs and Mary Rae Schrick, and Emily Bauer, postulant.

An assembly line of volunteers and friends of the prison ministry filled and secured the bags on Dec. 4 at the SCL Mother House. On Dec. 7, Bethany Prison Ministry team members delivered the bags to the correctional facility. From that point, prison staff members distribute the gifts to inmates, many of whom don’t have regular visitors or receive phone calls or mail.

“It’s all very heartwarming,” George sums up, “and reflective of what Christmas is all about.”

Note: The Bethany Prison Ministry is associated with St. Francis de Sales Parish, Lansing. It includes Sisters of Charity of Leavenworth; several SCL Associates; three priests – a Benedictine, diocesan and Precious Blood; a Benedictine sister; and other volunteers.