A chaplain in Conway wants to make sure everyone in his workplace has a chance for some Christmas cheer.
Eddie Hill, the chaplain and programs and services coordinator for the Horry County Sheriff’s Office at J. Reuben Long Detention Center, near Conway, counts the “Christmas Inmate Package” program among his duties to lead.
Hill said this annual program, in which people held at the center awaiting trial each receive a goody bag of a few basic staples, has been going for about 10 years at the county jail, and that groups from various local churches contribute to the cause.
About 750 such packages will be prepared, Hill said, and inmates also help in the final sorting.
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The items needed in each packet, in a 1-gallon, zip-lock plastic bag, exactly as listed, with no substitutions or additions are: one each of a 6-ounce or larger tube of toothpaste, 4-ounce or larger bar of soap, and 5-by-8-inch or 8-by-10-inch, 50-page writing table – with no wire binding; five U.S. Postal Service stamp-embossed envelopes; two rolls of mints such as LifeSavers or Jolly Ranchers; and one unsealed Christmas card with a note, but no name or signature.
Hill said year-round programs for inmates, with help from 120 volunteers, cover such areas as education initiatives, GED prep classes, many alcohol and drug rehabilitation classes, and services and Bible studies in a place where inmates who practice their faith include “Muslims, Catholics and Jehovah’s Witnesses.”
Receiving a larger than usual bar of soap, instead of the one-night-size given in many hotel rooms, or a bigger tube of toothpaste, for example, provides a genuine treat for inmates, Hill said, and the jail staff furnish specially made toothbrushes and short “golf pencils” with the packets.
Question | How do the positives of this Inmate Christmas Package program multiply?
Answer | Many people don’t realize it’s a great opportunity for the inmates and a great opportunity for the community to give back a little bit. They’re not all bad people; they might have made bad choices. Certainly at Christmas, it’s nice that they feel human again.
Q. | What caring role have places of worship played in this annual roundup of items for the packages?
A. | It’s typically been churches, but it’s open to anyone who wants to give back. … One really neat thing this year has been Journey Church; their youth group wrote some letters to the inmates, and every inmate will get a letter from a teen.
Q. | How easy is dropping off materials to donate?
A. | Bring the items to the detention center at the front desk; the officer will know they’re for the Inmate Christmas Packages. One group of churches will bring their stuff on Dec. 12; Monday, Dec. 16 is the last day I can take in items.
Q. | How does this collection and distribution of these goods occupy a special place in volunteers’ hearts?
A. | It’s a big deal for us. I have volunteers who come in and we sort through them about a week before Christmas. ...
With the culture today, people love to give back, and people love to give their time. What a great opportunity to do something special. Very few people realize we do anything for inmates; it’s the mentality of locking them away and throwing away the key. These are pretrial inmates; they have not been convicted.
Ninety-six percent of the inmates today will get out one day. We always ask them, “What kind of person would you like to be when you get out?” We do programs in the jail to help them become productive citizens. It’s a win-win.
Q. | How long has being a chaplain been your life’s calling?
A. | I’ve been here with the Horry County Sheriff’s Office for seven years now, and I was a chaplain in south Florida for about nine years.
Q. | When does that yuletide joy hit your heart every year with this relay of packages to inmates?
A. | When we start packing them up, because I know the feeling they get. ... Prisoners are typically alone; they’re not used to attention. When the cell door opens, and the volunteer hands them a package, I’ve seen grown men cry. People might think, “What’s the big deal? It’s soap and toothpaste.” But it’s the thought behind that; that’s a big deal for them.
It’s not so much the paper and Jolly Ranchers; it’s the fact somebody took the time and thought of them to give them gifts, and that’s a big deal. … It’s about caring for people and trying to help them on their journey. Many of them have a tough road ahead. That little bit of caring goes a long way, especially at Christmas.