Christmas will be a little brighter for children who visit family members in the Jackson County Detention Center, thanks to students and employees at MCC-Penn Valley.
Now in its 12th year, the Criminal Justice Association drive provides toys to children of all ages, from infants to teenagers. Jail employees wrap the gifts and give them to every child visiting a family member until the toys are all distributed. The effort is also in conjunction with Penn Valley’s Brooks Institute.
The idea for the annual toy drive stemmed from discussions during a criminal justice class, and students continue to contribute today. Third-year criminal justice majors Alvalyce Reese and Zana McGee, both of whom donated toys this year, have a unique perspective on the drive because they’ve both been incarcerated before.
“I’ve been in the penitentiary and wanted somebody to do that for my family,” Reese says.
McGee agrees. Besides knowing what inmates and families go through, “I’m a compassionate person and wanted to help people.”
The gesture that started with students now includes MCC faculty and staff. Dr. Karen Curls, social science division chair at MCC-Penn Valley, has been involved with the toy drive since its inception, as has administrative assistant Donna Wallace.
“This effort comes so much from the students, and I couldn’t be more proud,” Curls says.
Wallace said one of the most memorable moments she’s witnessed over the years involved a student worker who found herself on the other side of the law.
“It was a really cold day, and (at the jail) I see this guy who has a baby carrier and it struck me because, who would bring a baby out in this cold?”
Wallace says the man turned out to be the boyfriend of the incarcerated student worker. “He was going to make sure she saw her baby, and that was the most touching moment for me.”
Wallace adds that it warms her heart to be able to help the children of incarcerated family members.
“It’s not the children’s fault,” she points out. “The kids are the innocent ones, and who doesn’t want to have something for Christmas?”
Donations are being collected at the Penn Valley Social Science Division, Humanities 301, through Friday, Dec. 15.