First Congregational Church of Bakersfield is looking to make the holiday season bright for recent parolees and their families.

Church members and the larger community can select families to buy Christmas gifts for by taking stars off the Christmas tree in the church. The stars have gift wishes from the parolees and their families written on them. The gifts must be returned to the church no later than Dec. 16.

In addition to the gifts, monetary donations will also be used to purchase jackets and shoes, specifically for children. Donations of used clothing is not being accepted.

“It makes me feel good at Christmas time that I can go out and share my joy of Christmas with someone who otherwise wouldn’t have it,” said Peghi Webb, a church member who is coordinating the program. “I like shopping and knowing that I’m buying something for these families that otherwise wouldn’t have Christmas.”

The church has 25 families to shop for this year. The families are selected by the California Department of Corrections’ Northern Region Adult Program Unit after local parole agents submit applications.

The applications include the families’ gift wishes — as well as the children’s ages and sizes — and are sent to the church.

Webb said the church has been holding the program for the past 30 years. She said the tradition was started by a former member who happened to work for the CDCR and saw that there were many parolee families who didn’t have the financial means to have a Christmas.

The member asked if the church could help out and the rest — as they say — is history.

After all the gifts are collected, Webb said they will be wrapped and distributed at a party on Dec. 19 that will include food and activities for the kids. Clothes will also be distributed to the families at that time.

“The kids just get so excited to know they’re getting presents, and the parents are really happy and grateful that their kids are able to enjoy the holiday season. It means a lot to them,” she said.

Joseph Luiz can be reached at 661-395-7368. Follow him on Twitter: @JLuiz_TBC.

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