Thank You, Santa’s Helpers!

By Molly Tack-Hooper, Staff Attorney, ACLU of Pennsylvania

Last month, I blogged about the 41 children preparing to spend Christmas incarcerated at a family immigration detention center in Berks County. In past years, these children would have been released to stay with relatives in the U.S. while their immigration cases proceeded. But because of a new misguided and illegal federal policy of locking up asylum-seeking families as a means of deterring other Central Americans from seeking refuge in the U.S., dozens of children spent the holidays behind bars.

On December 16, the ACLU filed a lawsuit challenging the Obama administration’s no-release policy. In the days after that, I worked with the Berks facility to set up an online holiday toy drive for the children detained there—just in case Santa Claus couldn’t make it past security.

You—our members and supporters and colleagues and friends—responded quickly and generously to the toy drive. Less than 24 hours after I set up the gift registry, you had purchased enough toys for every child at Berks to receive a present on Christmas. Within a few days, you had bought every last toy on the registry, ensuring that every kid at Berks would have several presents on Christmas morning. And you didn’t stop there—you asked what else they needed. So after checking with the facility, we added some more games and winter clothes to the registry. And you bought many of those, too.

The staff at the Berks Center tell me that they took great pleasure in wrapping all of the gifts you donated and delivering them to the children on Christmas morning, and that the kids loved their presents. The staff asked me to pass along their thanks. The Center’s privacy policies prohibit them from sharing any photos with the children’s faces, but today they passed along a photo from Christmas morning of one of the facility’s littlest detainees.

Thank you for brightening his Christmas by giving him new toys of his own. Your support—not only of the toy drive, but of all of our work—is humbling and inspiring. We’ll keep fighting until the children at Berks have the gift of freedom, too.

Molly-Tack-HooperMolly Tack-Hooper started at the ACLU of Pennsylvania as a volunteer legal fellow in 2010-2011 and returned in 2013 as a staff attorney focusing on civil liberties issues arising in Central Pennsylvania and on immigrants’ rights.

3 thoughts on “Thank You, Santa’s Helpers!

  1. Molly,
    We participated with Toys for Tots this year and had some new toys left over. Would it be possible to send those to the children as well. I am aware that there are some that are prohibited, but there must be a way to get at least some of these to the kids.

    John J Faison
    919 322 8047 – Cell
    919 322 0360 – Office
    3033 Suite 3
    Stony Brook Dr.
    Raleigh, NC 27604

  2. At the beginning of Advent this year, my eight year old daughter challenged me as I tried to teach my children that Christmas was more about giving and sharing God’s gifts than receiving. “If Christmas is more about giving than receiving, why don’t we give gifts to others rather than to each others?” Thinking that she just wanted to sacrifice “my” money, I asked her what she was willing to give to another child her age. Immediately she replied that she had saved $20 from her allowance that she was willing to use to buy a gift for another child. At first it seemed like a good idea to me, but as you can imagine the idea of not buying gifts for my kids began to bother me. I hoped they would forget the idea, but later my five year old brought it up again; for them it was a foregone conclusion that they would not get presents this year, but instead would give them. Instead of imagining what they would like to receive for Christmas, they started thinking about what some other kid might enjoy receiving on Christmas morning.

    Now I was in a quandary; How was I to find an appropriate way for my kids to express their generosity in a meaningful way? Of course I could take their money and give it to a charity, but some how that did not seem like it would satisfy their little hearts. As a family we prayed that God would show us to whom we should give gifts to this year. Suddenly, on one of the blogs that I follow someone shared a link that had my answer. In a collaboration between Immigration and Custom Enforcement and some non-profits, a gift list was set up at various stores allowing us to purchase gifts chosen by children who had been incarcerated as they crossed the border unaccompanied.

    As we scrolled through the pages of gifts my eyes filled with tears. Firstly, my kids were so excited to be selecting presents for other children their age who are separated from family, friends, and country. Secondly, my heart breaks for their parents who may have not seen them for many months and cannot be with them at Christmas. I was thankful for those who had set up the gift list so we could share the joy of Christmas with those children. The registry allowed us to write a note to each of the children. I wrote as my children dictated their excitement in giving these gifts.

    As if that was not enough, there is more to the story. I stumbled across a link on another blog that I read that was specifically for ministers. This church had decided that they wanted to bless the children of preachers this year. They simply asked us to write down what church we are ministering in, our children’s ages, and what they wanted for Christmas. Can you imagine how surprised my kids will be on Christmas morning when they get up and find that someone had been thinking of them while they were thinking of others?

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