Inmates’ kids won’t be left empty-handed

Some of the loneliest kids in The City have a mother or father in jail, and without a gift to unwrap during the holidays, that emptiness can lay heavy on the heart.

Hermann Reiss, a lay chaplain who visits San Francisco inmates at least three times a week, realized that more than eight years ago. That’s when he began collecting toys for the inmates’ children and handing them out at Christmastime.

The volunteers at Highlands Christian Jail Ministry, which Reiss heads, collect donations so the young sons and daughters of inmates at the main San Francisco jail, located in San Bruno, will get at least one gift for the holidays. Today, he expects more than 200 kids to walk home with a little something.

“Inmates think its great, of course, because they know they can’t do anything while they’re in there,” Reiss said. “And with the kids, there’s a lot of sparkling eyes and faces. It really makes us feel good that something nice is happening to the community.”

Eileen Hirst, spokeswoman for the San Francisco Sheriff’s Department, said the holidays are a critical time for inmates and their families. In addition to services offered in several religions, from the Jewish community to the Muslim community, inmates are treated to special meals, caroling and added holiday visiting hours.

“It’s a time when we need to keep people connected to their family and the community.”

Hirst said the holiday season is the busiest time of the year for family visits, and one of the toughest parts for inmates is that even if they could afford a gift for a son or daughter, they would have to arrange for a family member to buy and deliver it.

“There’s a common thread in jail: the people in there are poor,” Hirst said. “Otherwise, they would be out on bail.”

The ministry gives out tickets to each child under 12 who comes out to the jail Saturday for a visit. The tickets are then exchanged for gender-specific toys, games, educational items and school supplies.

Reiss said the giveaway concept is nothing new to the jail population. In the 1970s, Mary Kay Beard spent six years in prison, and after being paroled she came up with a plan to deliver packages to the children’s homes in the name of their incarcerated parent.

Reiss said the ministry’s concept is different in that it takes it to the jail, a place where a family can help cure some of those holiday blues.

bbegin@examiner.com

Bay Area NewsLocal

If you find our journalism valuable and relevant, please consider joining our Examiner membership program.
Find out more at www.sfexaminer.com/join/

Just Posted

Some people are concerned that University of California, San Francisco’s expansion at its Parnassus campus could cause an undesirable increase in the number of riders on Muni’s N-Judah line.<ins></ins>
Will UCSF’s $20 million pledge to SFMTA offset traffic woes?

An even more crowded N-Judah plus increased congestion ahead cause concern

A health care worker receives one of the first COVID-19 vaccine doses at Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital on Tuesday Dec. 15, 2020. (Courtesy SFgov)
SF to open three large sites for COVID-19 vaccinations

Breed: ‘We need more doses. We are asking for more doses’

San Jose Sharks (pictured Feb. 15, 2020 vs. Minnesota Wild at Xcel Energy Center) open the season on Monday against the St. Louis Blues in St. Louis. (Tribune News Service archive)
This week in Bay Area sports

A look at the upcoming major Bay Area sports events (schedules subject… Continue reading

Tongo Eisen-Martin, a Bernal Heights resident, named San Francisco’s eighth poet laureate. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)
Tongo Eisen-Martin becomes San Francisco’s eighth poet laureate

Bernal Heights resident Tongo Eisen-Martin has become San Francisco’s eighth poet laureate.… Continue reading

Homeless people's tents can be seen on Golden Gate Avenue in the Tenderloin on Wednesday afternoon, Dec. 16, 2020. (Photo by Ekevara Kitpowsong/S.F. Examiner)
Statewide business tax could bring new funds to combat homelessness

San Francisco could get more than $100 million a year for housing, rental assistance, shelter beds

Most Read