For children with a parent in prison Christmas can be a confusing and distressing time.

Thanks to the Angel Tree, children receive a gift chosen especially for them with a personal message from the parent they are missing.

The Angel Tree, a subsidiary of Prison Fellowship New Zealand (PFNZ), works with prison chaplains who ask parents in prison if they would like gifts sent out to their families on their behalf.

The prisoner writes a personal message which is typed on a card to go with their child's present.

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Regional co-ordinator for Angel Tree Family Care Jude Hildreth said research indicates that if a relationship is nurtured between a child and their incarcerated parent, the child has a better emotional response to their parent being in prison.

"The Angel Tree has been in operation for 17 years and the research shows that the positive contact with a parent in prison leads to reduced truancy and better educational progress for the children," says Mrs Hildreth.

The purchase of gifts is made possible with support from churches and this year seven Whanganui churches have contributed to Angel Tree.

Amongst them, Christ Church Anglican, Central City Baptist, Elim, St Paul's Presbyterian, Westmere Presbyterian, Ingestre St Bible Chapel and Upokangaro Anglican Church have contributed 97 presents for children in the Whanganui region.

Volunteers got together on Saturday to wrap the gifts which have been selected with individual children in mind.

"We ask the parent or caregiver to fill out a card with the child's details so they get a gift they will really enjoy," said Mrs Hildreth.

She said the Angel Tree exists because children pay for crimes they did not commit.

When a parent is in prison, children can experience judgment, shame and bullying while living with a caregiver who is also coping with judgment and shame, as well as possible reduced financial circumstances.

PFNZ and The Angel Tree aim to work with families to give them resilience to cope with the changes to their lives.