GUEST BLOG: ChIPs--Strengthening Families

GUEST BLOG, by Margaret Mackie-Ciancio

Wouldn’t you know, the Christmas season seems to start earlier every year? The toy commercials are already ramping up. Yes, we’ll be seeing images of evergreens and holly soon enough. Now, maybe advertising jingles aren’t our favorite way to celebrate the coming season, but in their clumsy way they do point back to the reason we so emphasize Christmas. The stress of the holiday, and the drive to prepare early, comes from wanting it to be perfect, so that everyone is happy, everyone enjoys the surprise of getting exactly the gift he never knew he wanted until the moment he opens it, the food is plentiful, the laughter is bright. And we want that for the people we love because they are the people we love. And, Christmas is a holy celebration of Love.

Well, we are not perfect, and the world is not perfect. And we don’t want to hear about people having a destitute holiday when we’re preparing frantically to make our own joyful. But we know these people exist around the world, and even in our own community. There’s a group here I’d like to talk to you about right now. They are families separated at Christmas by a member’s incarceration.

When a loved one goes to prison, the abrupt ripping of the family fabric is tremendously traumatic. The children still need that parent in their lives. They feel lost and abandoned, as well as grief-stricken and anxious for their father’s or mother’s safety. The inmate also feels the fear, shock and sorrow. He worries that his family will move on and forget him. She worries that they won’t be able to make the rent without her. And as each person orients away from the breach, emotional ties become harder and more painful to keep.

But keeping those ties is tremendously important. Jesus commanded us to love one another, and we all need Love in order to live. If an inmate feels abandoned, she loses the security that she can come home when her time is over. She leaves prison with nowhere to go, no emotional or financial support as she tries to get back on her feet. And, she is far more likely to end up arrested again. She needs to know that her family is still there, and still wants her. If a child feels abandoned, he begins to think he is no longer of value. Without a sense of self-worth, he is more likely fail classes, to get involved in drugs or alcohol, to harm himself or others, and to end up in jail himself. He needs to know that his parent is still there, and still cares.

The ChIPs Program is designed to strengthen these family connections, for the sake of the children and the prisoners both. Grateful letters from so many inmates and families have testified to the effectiveness of our efforts. ChIPs aims to spread the Christmas message of Joy and Love to those among us who need it the most.

Here’s what you can do to help:

You may drop off gifts or monetary donations at your church.  The delegates to the Diocesan Convention will bring your gifts to the Convention on November 5th where they will be transported to Blass Clubhouse at St. Paul’s School for sorting.  The dates for sorting are tentatively set for early November.  (Call 432 7679 for more information)

There are other ways you can help as well:

1.     You can purchase a gift directly or contribute $20.  If you decide to make a monetary donation, please make out your check to the Diocese of New Hampshire with ChIPS written on the memo line of the check.

2.     You can volunteer to collect gifts and serve as your parish’s contact.

3.     You can help sort the gifts at St. Paul’s School.

4.     You can help with wrapping of the gifts at the New Hampshire State Prison for Men in Concord.  (The date for wrapping has not yet been set but is usually in early December.)

5.     You can collect note cards for use in the prisons .

For more information, or if you wish to volunteer, please contact me, Margaret Mackie-Ciancio, at 603 432-7679 (home) or 867 4590 (cell) or at 

Gift Guidelines

We group gifts according the following age groups:

birth to 1; ages 2 to 4; ages 5 to 7; ages 8-11; and ages 12-15

Gifts should not exceed $20 (original retail value).

One $20 gift is preferable to four $5 gifts as it is difficult to group items together to equal a $20 gift.

If you don’t want to purchase a $20 gift, any monetary donation will be gladly accepted. 

Books are a separate category and our goal is to provide each child with a gift and a book.  (both hard cover and paperback books are appropriate)

If you purchase a gift that requires batteries, please purchase those as well and attach them to the gift.  It’s so discouraging to receive a gift with no batteries.

Consider buying a gift that would be appropriate for both boys and girls such as balls or board games. 

Don’t forget the older children.  It is often easier to buy gifts for younger children.  There is always a shortage of gifts for older children.

No used items, homemade items, or gift cards can be accepted. 

The following items are NOT acceptable: jewelry, balloons, crayons, play dough, glue.  bubbles, make up, long sticks, knitting needles, crochet hooks, or paint brushes, glass items, clothing, sharp tools or toy weapons of any kind.

Thanks for your help.