By Danny Duchene, CR Inside Pastor at Saddleback Church
During the Covid-19 pandemic of 2020, it has not been easy for many of the Angel Tree families who have a mom or dad in prison. One of these families includes the family of a particular four-year-old Angel named Leilini. In 2019 Leilini’s dad was released from prison and, unfortunately, lost his battle with opioid addiction. For those who struggle with addiction, the first few weeks after prison release are a high-risk period for relapse and overdose. Consequently, Leilini’s father died of an overdose shortly after his release. As a result of these circumstances, the Covid-19 crisis has been incredibly difficult for Leilini and her family. However, this tragedy associated with post incarceration relapse is why our prison ministry continues our relationship with this Angel Tree family.
Leilini has been an Angel Tree participant for the first three years of her life. Since she was born while her father was in prison, Angel Tree volunteers from Saddleback Church have taken a special interest in Leilini and her family. During this time, Leilini has participated in Saddleback Church’s annual Angel Tree event at the Saddleback Church Campus. Each year Angel tree volunteers provide Christmas gifts in the child’s incarcerated mom or dad’s name. At the Christmas party, Leilini’s bright and happy face is always a joy to the Angel Tree volunteers who play games with the children, serve the catered meal, and provide a stage show for the Angel Tree families.
When the Angel Tree team at Saddleback Church heard of Leilini’s family’s difficulties, they reached out to her as one of our special Angels. During the Covid-19 lockdown, Angel Tree volunteers joyfully helped Leilini and her family Celebrate Easter and Leilini’s fourth birthday party. Leilini and her family are now a loved part of our Angel Tree outreach. The team continues to introduce Leilini’s entire family to Celebrate Recovery and Saddleback Church. During the pandemic, the Angel Tree team also brought a care kit of groceries to Leilini’s family. The relationship with this family, first began through Project Angel Tree, continues to be a vital connection as the family struggles with grief over Leilini’s dad’s loss and now the Covid-19 crisis.
The Angel Tree ministry allowed our volunteers the opportunity to not just connect with Leilini’s family during Christmas, but to develop healthy relationships that we hope will last for Leilini’s lifetime.