PACT reflects on how ‘Operation Elf’ Christmas project helped so many mums and dads in prison

Staff and families from Portland prison sent a message after their Pact Christmas Family Visit Day: ‘Operation Elf was a huge hit. We would like to say Thank You.’

Pact is the national Catholic charity which provides support for prisoners and their families.

“Operation Elf is our annual Christmas appeal in which parishes, schools and individuals help parents in prison to give a Christmas gift to their child,” said Theresa Alessandro, Pact’s Catholic Community Engagement Manager.

“This year people generously donated gift cards – and in some cases sacks of presents – so that mums and dads in prison were able to give their children a Christmas gift.”

In this bumper year, Operation Elf supported the parents of almost 2,000 children across England & Wales.

“At Pact we appreciate the generosity of those who were able to give at a time when there is so much need,” said Theresa.

“One parent said, ‘Thank you for the gift cards. It means a lot as the cost of living problems we are having are hard.’

“We noticed more creativity than ever. The parishes of Borehamwood and North Harrow collected gifts and worked directly with Pact staff at HMP Pentonville and HMP Wormwood Scrubs to deliver them in time for Family Days. Fr Dominic McKenna attended one of the Pact family days and was inspired to preach about it at Sunday Mass at St Teresa’s in Borehamwood afterwards. School pupils from the dioceses of Southwark and Arundel & Brighton arranged a variety of Operation Elf fundraising events, like paying a small fee to wear their trainers for a day.

“Pact staff at Elmley prison, Isle of Sheppey, arranged for the dads inside to choose gifts for their children, using donated gift cards to purchase them. Staff facilitated the dads being able to wrap and label the gifts and have them ready for the children when they arrived for their Christmas Visit. This process provided rich opportunities for the dads to talk about their children, think about what they might like, and look forward to seeing their smiling faces. One dad said, ‘We all thought Operation Elf was a fantastic thing to do for the children. My boy really enjoyed it. Thank you for the lovely experience.’ And another, ‘Little touches like this make the time apart more bearable’.

“Where we can, we will send some of this beautiful feedback directly to those who supported Operation Elf.  However, many people sent Operation Elf gift cards to the Pact office anonymously. From all of us here at Pact, thank you for thinking of prisoners and their children and for supporting family bonds at what ought to be such a special time,” said Theresa.

If you would like to stay in touch with the vitally important work that Pact does, you can sign up to receive their quarterly magazine, Fresh Start. You could also think about volunteering with Pact and working with prisoners and their families in person or remotely. Pact offers training, support and a community of wonderful people to work, and walk, alongside.

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Pact is a charity registered in England & Wales, number 219278.

Company registration number: 356443.

Registered office: 29 Peckham Road, London, SE5 8UA.