IN the season when families come together, gifts are bought and exchanged and traditions celebrated, the empty chair is a potent reminder of an absent family member.
As Christmas approaches, UnitingCare Community Prison Ministry is the first port of call for prisoners and their families across Queensland, many living at the social margins of our community.
The organisation has been working for over 40 years to provide pastoral and material care to inmates and the fractured families that they leave behind.
Christmas time, when the budget may not stretch to gifts or Christmas treats, presents one of their biggest challenges, says senior chaplain and coordinator Beatriz Skippen.
Thanks to support from Uniting Church congregations and individuals, Prison Ministry will once again deliver food baskets, toiletries and gifts to families in need.
The project is made possible by the many churches which help with gathering items, and the teams of volunteers who coordinate the donations.
"To watch a child's face light up as they investigate their surprise is reward enough, but to see a mother's appreciation as she sees her children's joy and knows that she has that something special to brighten the Christmas season for her family is wonderful," says Ms Skippen.
"Sometimes, tears of joy and thankfulness flow because someone cared enough to brighten their lives with an unconditional gift."
Gifts also go to the prison inmates.
In the Women's Correctional Centre, the chaplains are allowed to give a small care package containing toiletries, a calendar, Christmas cards, a diary, a pair of socks, a handkerchief, a packet of sweets and a New Testament to each of the inmates for Christmas.
Ordinary items, but neither affordable nor easy to obtain for many prison inmates, says Ms Skippen.
Prison Ministry is seeking non-perishable groceries for Christmas hampers, toiletries for female inmates, small gifts for children, gift vouchers for teens and mothers on the outside, and donations.
For more information contact Beatriz Skippen on 3867 2550 or visit uccommunity.org.au/ prison-ministry