FUQUAY-VARINA — A few minutes after the bearded man in red walked through the door on Tuesday, 4-year-old Bonnie Hernandez launched herself into his arms.
Hey, Santa. I want presents, Bonnie blurted out.
Santa did have a special delivery for the little girl it was a gift from the mother she never sees. Tracie Hernandez is serving time in federal prison but was able to sign her daughters up to receive learning games and puzzles.
The Bob Barker Co., a detention center supply company, partnered with the nonprofit Prison Fellowships Project Angel Tree to buy about 60 Harnett County children presents selected by their incarcerated parent.
The kids got a chance to pick up their presents, decorate cookies and make Christmas ornaments at a party the company hosted Tuesday at its distribution center in Fuquay-Varina.
Tabitha Sansom of Angier is raising four children on her own while her husband is in jail for failing to pay his probation supervision fees after he lost his job at a convenience store.
I think its wonderful what Bob Barker is doing, Sansom said. Times are hard. For them to go out of their way to do something like this is amazing.
Chaplains with Project Angel Tree visited jails and prisons and asked parents to sign their child up for the gift-giving program, select a type of present and send along a special message to their children.
Many of the messages hand-written on the gifts said Merry Christmas!, I love you, and I will see you soon.
The presents, still wrapped, went home with the children to be opened on Christmas Day.
With an economic recession and money tight ,Toy Moore, who is Bonnies aunt by marriage and co-guardian, said the gifts from Bob Barker meant that the Bonnie and her sister Viviana Hernandez, 7, will have a much better Christmas.
It also means the girls arent forgotten.
It was a gesture by their mother, Moore said. I thought it was important for them to know that their mom still cares about them and loves them.
Moore said she and her husband have cared for both girls since they were babies. Their mother had a bad drug habit and is serving time in a federal prison in West Virginia,
This is the second year the company has participated in the program. The average age of the children was around 8, but they ranged from less than a year to 18 years old.
An estimated 1.7 million U.S. children have a parent incarcerated in state or federal prison, according to a 2007 study from the Bureau of Justice Statistics, the most recent study available.
Bob Barker president Robert Barker said one of his companys priorities is to help reduce jail recidivism.
Studies have shown that if an inmate is able to maintain a positive relationship with their families, they have a better opportunity, a better chance of staying out (after being released from prison), Barker said. This is a way of helping them maintain a positive relationship with their spouses and their children.