More

This church is practicing what they preach by bringing Christmas to people in prison.

Willow Creek's 'prison packs' are having a lasting effect.

This church is practicing what they preach by bringing Christmas to people in prison.

Pastor Bill Hybels was reading from the Gospel of Matthew 25, when he came across a verse that he couldn't shake:

"For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me."

"As Bill was reading this passage of scripture, that phrase, 'When you were in prison you came to visit me,' it kind of just hit him like, 'I don't know if we're doing this as a church,'" Willow Creek teaching pastor Steve Carter says.

Out of Hybels' focus on that verse was born the idea for a program to bring Christmas presents to every inmate housed in an Illinois prison.

In the program's first year, the church and its congregation helped pack and deliver 30,000 presents to Illinois inmates. Using the connections the church had already made with the Illinois Department of Corrections through their prison and jail ministry program, they tested their new plan out in 2013. The following year, they set out to provide a pack to every single person in an Illinois prison.


A July 2015 report by the Illinois Department of Corrections lists the state's prison population at 47,483.

Josie Guth, Willow Creek's director of local compassion and justice, announces plans to reach every prisoner in the state of Illinois this December. All GIFs from Willow Creek Community Church/Vimeo.

Packing that many presents is an all-hands-on-deck experience, turning the church into its own version of Santa's workshop.

Willow Creek, located in South Barrington, Illinois, is one of the country's largest churches, averaging more than 20,000 attendees per week. As the holiday season rolls around, parishioners line up to help pack presents — which include popcorn, honey buns, Christmas cards, puzzle books, calendars, journals, and Bible studies.

Volunteers at Willow Creek pack presents.

Behind bars, inmates often feel forgotten and isolated, cut off from the outside world. The gifts from Willow Creek make them feel seen again.

On Willow Creek's Facebook page, they shared the story of Brandon, a former inmate and recipient of one of the church's prison packs. His story shows how something so small can do so much to bring hope to the hopeless. When he was 16, Brandon joined a gang and began selling drugs. After his third conviction on gun possession charges, he was sentenced to six years in prison; he would spend four behind bars.

"I joined a gang because I wanted some attention. I wanted some love," said Brandon in Willow Creek's video. "Like the guy who showed me how to sell crack. He checked up on me three times a day."

Each box costs around just $5 to pack, but the inmates who receive them get something far more valuable: a reminder that there are people out there who care about them.

Brandon discusses the effect Willow Creek's prison packs had on him.

"I think deep in our core, everyone wants to feel seen and known," says Pastor Carter. "And so who are those people we can see or know?"

This is a lesson that goes beyond inmates and beyond any one specific situation. It's a lesson in empathy and giving that's worth remembering year-round. Life is filled with small things that can have a big impact on the lives of others, and there's no better time than now to give back (if you're in the position to do so), to call a friend or relative you haven't spoken to in a while, or to just let someone know that you're there for them.

It's a season of hope, and we can all be a part of it.

Dino is an Illinois inmate and recipient of a Willow Creek pack.

To learn more about Willow Creek's Prison Packs program, check out the video below.

True

When a pet is admitted to a shelter it can be a traumatizing experience. Many are afraid of their new surroundings and are far from comfortable showing off their unique personalities. The problem is that's when many of them have their photos taken to appear in online searches.

Chewy, the pet retailer who has dedicated themselves to supporting shelters and rescues throughout the country, recognized the important work of a couple in Tampa, FL who have been taking professional photos of shelter pets to help get them adopted.

"If it's a photo of a scared animal, most people, subconsciously or even consciously, are going to skip over it," pet photographer Adam Goldberg says. "They can't visualize that dog in their home."

Adam realized the importance of quality shelter photos while working as a social media specialist for the Humane Society of Broward County in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

"The photos were taken top-down so you couldn't see the size of the pet, and the flash would create these red eyes," he recalls. "Sometimes [volunteers] would shoot the photos through the chain-link fences."

That's why Adam and his wife, Mary, have spent much of their free time over the past five years photographing over 1,200 shelter animals to show off their unique personalities to potential adoptive families. The Goldbergs' wonderful work was recently profiled by Chewy in the video above entitled, "A Day in the Life of a Shelter Pet Photographer."

Vanna White appeared on "The Price Is Right" in 1980.

Vanna White has been a household name in the United States for decades, which is kind of hilarious when you consider how she gained her fame and fortune. Since 1982, the former model and actress has made millions walking back and forth turning letters (and later simply touching them—yay technology) on the game show "Wheel of Fortune."

That's it. Walking back and forth in a pretty evening gown, flipping letters and clapping for contestants. More on that job in a minute…

As a member of Gen X, television game shows like "Wheel of Fortune" and "The Price is Right" send me straight back to my childhood. Watching this clip from 1980 of Vanna White competing on "The Price is Right" two years before she started turning letters on "Wheel of Fortune" is like stepping into a time machine. Bob Barker's voice, the theme music, the sound effects—I swear I'm home from school sick, lying on the ugly flowered couch with my mom checking my forehead and bringing me Tang.

This video has it all: the early '80s hairstyles, a fresh-faced Vanna White and Bob Barker's casual sexism that would never in a million years fly today.

Keep Reading Show less