EAST ORANGE, N.J. (CBSNewYork) — With the pandemic raging on, one New Jersey woman is taking action to make sure children of people who are incarcerated are getting basic necessities and the support they need.
From getting new bikes to musical instruments to school supplies, the Henderson siblings are three of dozens of children that credit their personal and professional development to 83-year-old June Lockett, of East Orange.READ MORE: New Rapid COVID Testing Sites In New York City Expected To Accelerate Reopening
“Ms. Lockett? Honestly, she’s a second mother,” 23-year-old David Henderson said.
In 2013, Lockett spearheaded a service project called “Angel Tree,” helping make sure children of incarcerated parents received gifts for the holidays.
Inmates provide their children’s names to the nonprofit Prison Fellowship, who then looks for “angels” to help.
In this case, they are Lockett and her sisters in the Beta Alpha Omega chapter of the historic African-American national sorority Alpha Kappa Alpha.
“The purpose was first just to give a Christmas gift in the name of the parent so the child knows the parent was thinking about them and loved them,” Lockett told CBS2’s Lisa Rozner.
Lockett even got her church family involved, having them organize a special Christmas dinner the past few years.
Volunteers from the Bethel Presbyterian Church of East Orange also look after Locket’s extended children from the “Angel Tree” program. It grew from 25 recipients the first year to close to 100 more recently.
- For more information on the program, visit prisonfellowship.org/about/angel-tree.
“It helps a lot knowing that you’re not alone with what you’re going through,” 11-year-old Emmanuel Henderson said.
“It was extremely beautiful to be able to get that help,” Angel Tree recipient Angela Moore said.
Several years ago, Moore says her brother Vincent put her three kids on the “Angel Tree” list.READ MORE: Central Park Ice Skating Rinks Close Sunday As NYC Severs Ties With Trump Organization
“He knew we were a little struggling at the time,” Moore said.
“We knew that he was thinking of us that whole time, and we were thinking of him,” daughter Elizabeth Henderson said.
“My uncle honestly has always been around for my life, from since I was 4,” David Henderson said.
So he was not surprised the “angels” his uncle sent built a bond that lasted year-round, even moving him into the dorms for his freshman year at William Paterson University.
“Honestly one thing I was kind of worried about was– I wasn’t worried about books or anything or tuition, it was moreso the other stuff … bedding, sheets, pillows, because you’re essentially moving out and starting your own life,” David Henderson said.
Andrea McChristian, law and policy director for the New Jersey Institute for Social Justice, says programs like “Angel Tree” fill a need.
“What we’re seeing is there isn’t an investment in the communities that’s aligning with the investment our state is making in incarceration,” she said.
But for Lockett, the daughter of a nurse and retired Newark principal, this is part of her lifelong pledge of service to all mankind.
“It’s a joy to know these families because they’re just great,” she said.
Loving every child as if they were her own.MORE NEWS: Daughters Of Malcolm X, Civil Rights Attorney Say They Have Evidence That Proves NYPD, FBI Conspired To Have Him Assassinated
This year, because of COVID, Angel Tree gave out gift cards to its recipients.