Did you know there are people serving time in prison who never get a visitor, never get a letter, or receive a Christmas card?

Shirley Yates and her husband Carl are aware of this sad situation and, seven years ago, decided to do something about it.

“Daily, every inmate must stand for mail call whether they have mail or not,” Yates said. “Imagine how it feels to never get a letter? To feel, especially at Christmas, to feel so alone and forgotten?” It was a Wednesday night the first week of December and Yates and her husband and about thirty others were at Seaside Coffee on a Christmas card writing mission. “Recently I received a note from an inmate thanking us again for last year’s card. She wrote, ‘It was the only gift I got. I read and re-read it; I can’t thank you enough for remembering me.’”

Carl and Shirley Yates have been visiting prisons and writing to inmates for over 20 years. This year, along with a crew of volunteers, they will be sending between 800 to 900 cards to people behind bars. The incarcerated reside in correctional facilities in California, Mississippi, and Oregon. What started as a small list of card recipients grew by word of mouth. It started with 33 women Yates began mentoring via letter and over time, a Christmas card list was developed.

“The cards are designed by David Haidle, an artist,” Yates said. “The greeting inside was written by his wife, Helen. They donate 1,000 cards every year to our nonprofit here in Oregon. Our friends and neighbors get together and we address and sign each card.”

Yates provides pointers to her volunteers. It starts with putting the person’s first name inside the card so the message becomes personal and offers tips on what kind of handwritten message to inscribe. The messages are meant to be oblique but positive. Some examples include, “Stay strong and may the hope of this season be yours” or “This card is to let you know you’re not forgotten,” or “Be encouraged and have a peace-filled Christmas.”

Each card is signed with the volunteer’s name. There are stickers for the return address, which is always the same, the post office box for “At the Water’s Gate,” which is the Yates’ ministry.

The mood was festive at 7 p.m. at Seaside Coffee where the proprietor, Michelle Wunderlich, provided festive snacks to fuel the card writers in their task. They met for two hours. They produced a lot of signed and addressed cards.

“In the past, we’ve done this at my house,” Yates said. “It was Michelle’s idea we do it here this year.”

For more information about the Christmas cards for prisoners program, contact Shirley Yates at smithyatess@yahoo.com. Donations are always welcome to cover postage.

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