It started with Christmas cards

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"The one thing prisoners have a lot of," said Bill Hall, diocesan prison ministry coordinator at Catholic Charities, "is time."

That time can be spent in many ways, some of them not good. Seniors at St. John the Baptist Church in Front Royal are looking at books to keep prisoners at a local jail occupied. The outreach started with greeting cards, but is evolving into much more.

Last November, Mary Lou Warren, director of IHM Home Schooling Conferences, and Mick Tamas, coordinator of the Young-at-Heart senior group at St. John the Baptist, were talking about ways to make seniors, and prisoners, feel better during the Christmas holidays.

Handmade greeting cards came to mind, and Tamas said that it would be something the senior group could get behind.

The program grew beyond just seniors in nursing homes to include Christendom College students, Knights of Columbus, Seton Home Study School, Chelsea Academy and individuals.

"Children and families got involved," said Warren.

Before Christmas, card makers gathered after Sunday Masses to create the cards in the Padre Pio Parish Hall, with grandparents bringing their grandchildren to join in the fun.

Hall delivered the prisoners' cards to the jail, while adults and children visited local nursing homes with cards for the elderly. About 700 cards in total were distributed.

The group didn't stop at Christmas cards, but went on to make and distribute 125 Valentine's Day cards for seniors in nursing homes.

The card-making effort is on hiatus until next Christmas season, but Warren and the senior group are now collecting books for the Rappahannock Shenandoah Warren Regional Jail in Front Royal. It's a new facility with an empty library. Warren said that when the announcement seeking books went out in the church bulletin, people responded.

There are certain requirements for books that the jail has specified. No hardback books, only paperback - hardbacks can be fashioned into weapons. No stapled books either. New or slightly used books are accepted, and books for all reading levels are sought. Catholic books are welcome.

Warren said that they had a stockpile of about 375 books that Hall delivered in 10 boxes to the jail Feb. 23. There will be another load of books going out soon.

The senior group will be preparing spiritual bouquets for Project Rachel's March retreats for post-abortive women. The women's retreat is March 14, and a weekend retreat for siblings is March 13-15. Warren and the senior group are planning other service activities until Christmas card season returns.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2015