With 16 days until Christmas and Santa Claus still at the North Pole, more than a dozen organizations received some unlikely help in preparation for the holiday season. Inmates at the Federal Medical Center on Leestown Road spent much of the year knitting, carving, crocheting and sewing Christmas gifts for the needy.
The inmate gift program built more than 9,000 toys, stuffed animals, blankets and other items said Sally Leukefeld, president of the Community Relations Board for the Federal Medical Center and Federal Prison Camp. Toy production increased by nearly 4,000 from last year. The program has no budget and is funded through donations that play an important part for "anything the inmates can use for usable items," she said.
The gifts were delivered to their destinations by volunteers and board members, Tuesday, Dec. 2.
Efforts like these are done yearlong, Leukefeld said. Over 30 blankets are delivered to the University of Kentucky Chandler Hospital Neonatal Unit every month, in addition to items taken to 19 other non-profit organizations, shelters and centers.
The importance of the program "means a lot to us," Leukefeld said. "Making stuffed bears, scarfs and mittens means so much. It is their holiday."
Andrew Oliver, executive director for the Children's Advocacy Center on North Ashland, said the gifts are the trademark of what the group provides. The center serves children who have been physically or sexually abused.
"We just appreciate the support and know that it means a lot to the inmates to help kids and provide something unique and special for the kids we serve," said Oliver, who has been with the center for three years.
The board also dropped off items to Toys for Tots, The Salvation Army and The Nest Center for Women Children and Families.
Male inmates work at a wood shop in the prison to carve wooden toys, jewelry boxes and puzzles. They also make Braille books and toys.
Inmates at the minimum-security women's camp, which is outside of the main prison, knit and crochet clothes, blankets, stuffed toys, bags and other items. They also quilt, sew and embroider gifts. Inmates who volunteer for the gift program hand-craft items throughout the year. They stitch, sew and chisel in their free time, said Leukefeld. All inmates have jobs with the program except those who are chronically ill. The prison houses about 2,000 inmates.
Inmates also have the opportunity to train dogs and learn about horticulture. Leukefeld said the gift program is not only meant to help those who are disadvantaged, but also therapeutic for inmates.
"When it comes around to the holiday season and the inmates are separated from their families, they're not really getting a Christmas, they're not doing anything with their families, they can focus on the people in our community who are needy," she said.
Leukefeld said community involvement is vital when it comes to donations that will allow the inmates to continue their holiday giving.
The program is seeking donations of yarn, fabric, fiberfill stuffing, quilt batting, thread, embroidery floss, carving wood and other craft items. Monetary donations also are accepted.
Donors should contact Sally Leukefeld, president of the Board of Community Relations for the Federal Medical Center, at (859) 263-8707.