Tonya Quill delivers cards to the Cumberland County Jail last week. For more than 25 years, a Catholic parish in Portland has collected cards to give to inmates so they can send Christmas wishes to their loved ones. Courtesy / Joanne Roy

PORTLAND — For more than 25 years, Sister Joanne Roy and other parishioners from Sacred Heart/Saint Dominic Parish have reminded those incarcerated at the Cumberland County Jail that they are not forgotten during the Christmas season.

Members of Sacred Heart/Saint Dominic Parish, residents of Esther Residence and other members of the community collected 1,500 cards for inmates at Cumberland County Jail this year. Courtesy / Joanne Roy

Since the early 1990s, Roy has been leading an effort to deliver hundreds of holiday greeting cards to the inmates so they in turn can send them to family and friends.

“This helps them because they are not with their families for Christmas,” Roy said. ”

Scripture, Roy said, reminds people to not forget those who are sick, in prison, hungry or in need.

“We can’t forget they are human beings,” said parish member Denise Dreher, who has been involved with the project since it started. “Many are there because of difficult situations. There are people in prison who have done terrible things, but they are still human beings.”

The gesture means a lot to the inmates “during this season of hope and season of love,” said the Rev. Jeff McIlwain, chaplain for the Cumberland County Sheriff’s Office.

“It’s great the inmates can have that little boost. Small things can mean a lot,” McIlwain said Dec. 15 shortly after handing out 400 of the nearly 1,500 donated cards. “They get a chance to send a card to their friends or family and not worry about the cost. They enjoy it and it helps to put a smile on their faces.”

For the last decade, residents of Esther Residence, a home in Saco for women who are transitioning out of incarceration or treatment programs, have also participated in the card campaign. Some of the individuals who have lived at the home have benefited from the program, Roy said, and are eager to support it every year.

“We have had women over the years who have come back to help with the distribution who have told us they were grateful,” said Roy, who serves as the residence’s executive director. “I don’t know if they would otherwise have cards to send home.”

Anne Johnson, chairperson of the parish’s social justice and peace committee, said giving cards to the inmates is one way parishioners at Sacred Heart/St. Dominic’s Parish try to spread cheer around the holidays.

During the winter, the parish also raises money for housing security deposits for those who can’t afford them, donates to local food pantries and collects items for the homeless.

“People who come to Sacred Heart have an open heart,” Johnson said. “They really do.”

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