For the last three years, Mike Johnson has wrapped countless presents as part of Operation Toy Lift.
“You try to make the community just a little better if you can,” Johnson said, offering a wrapping tip: “The necessary step is to make sure you cover the whole package.”
The program allows offenders to pick out Christmas gifts for their children while they serve time behind bars.
“It lets the child know that even though mom and dad aren’t with them, that they’re thought of, they’re loved and they’re missed,” said Tonya Carlson of the Salvation Army.
But it’s those who work the assembly line of Christmas cheer who make this concept so unique.
Many of those packing up presents work for the Ramsey County Sheriff’s Office.
“It’s hard for a child to miss their mother or father at Christmas when they’re locked up, so you want to make it a bit better if you can,” said Johnson.
“There are times when I’ve done this that I’ve seen the same names from the previous year,” another volunteer said.
They see first hand that the offenders aren’t the only ones punished with prison time.
“The children didn’t do the crime, and they didn’t have any choice to have their parents taken away,” said Johnson.
It’s why each present is packed with care; a handwritten note is the added connection from parent to child.
“I think it’s a way for them to be there with their families without being there directly with their families,” a volunteer.
The gifts will arrive in time for Christmas, sent with the hope that next year a family will spend the holidays together.
“Hopefully it makes them want to get out of jail and stay out of jail,” Johnson said.
You can also help by donating to the Salvation Army’s toy program by clicking the image above.