Apr 02, 2024 | John W. Coleman

Remember those who are in prison, as though you were in prison with them. Remember those who are suffering, as though you were suffering as they are.  Hebrews 13:3 (Good News Version)

The Philadelphia Prison Complex received a special delivery during a special week, Holy Week, when “those who are in prison” there received over 4,500 pieces of underwear, plus 60 cases of disposable underwear and 248 pairs of crew socks, from generous donors in the Eastern PA and Greater New Jersey conferences (EPA&GNJ).

(From left) The Rev. Marilyn Schneider and Donte Harper unload boxes for delivery. Rev. Dawn Taylor-Storm photo

Five conference members and staff made that “Undies for Easter” delivery on Tuesday, March 26, to the Curran Fromhold Correctional Facility. They were able to present the items to the Rev. Carmelo Urena, head prison chaplain, and then hand plastic bags packed with donated briefs, undershirts and socks to grateful men in the intake section of the facility. 

Each man arriving at the Philadelphia Prison System is given only one pair of underpants and no undershirt to wear during an intake period that may last weeks or longer. A similar donation effort requested by Urena in 2022 provided over 2000 briefs and over 2000 undershirts to the men he cares for in the multi-facility system, plus more undergarments donated to women there also.

The need has grown since then, as the Philadelphia prison system’s population has increased to over 8,000. Among the 300-plus incarcerated women, their need for underwear is being addressed by other helping organizations. But the men in the system reportedly do not have this support.

The EPA&GNJ team picked up the donated items last Tuesday morning from where they had been stored, at Grove United Methodist Church in West Chester and St. Matthew’s UMC of Valley Forge. Their total delivery exceeded the initial goal of 2000 briefs and 2000 undershirts. Online donations, using an Amazon gift registry for purchases and deliveries, totaled 162, but that included bulk donations on behalf of some congregations and repeat donations.

Sharing the greatest Easter gift: bringing comfort’ to others

And since the delivery, over 500 more briefs and undershirts and 120 more pairs of socks have been received, reported the Rev. Marilyn Schneider, who led the three-month “Undies for Easter” campaign as coordinator of EPA’s Prison Ministries and Restorative Justice (PM&RJ) team.

She also led the delivery, along with the Rev. Allen Keller and Valerie Langston of the PM&RJ team; Donte Harper of EPA’s Project Restoration disaster recovery team; the Rev. Dawn Taylor-Storm, EPA&GNJ Assistant to the Bishop; and the Rev. Andrew Maggs, lead pastor of St. Andrew’s United Methodist Church in Spring Lake, NJ. Maggs is hoping to start a GNJ conferencewide Prison Ministries and Restorative Justice team like EPA’s.

Rev. Andrew Maggs

“Just seeing so many packages of underwear that so many generous people had donated, and then seeing the smiles on the faces of the men was exciting for me,” said Maggs. While he has done ministry at the East Jersey (formerly Rahway) State Prison, he was amazed at the Philadelphia prison system’s huge size, a reminder to him of the mass incarceration scourge that afflicts our society.

“My passion is for the incarcerated, formerly incarcerated, and those at risk of incarceration, as well as the need to change our  public perception of them, especially in the church.” said the Drew Theological School graduate who earned a Graduate Certificate in Restorative Justice and Prison Ministry there. “I hope we can do some form of conferencewide ministry in Greater New Jersey, where we can become a resource for churches and collaborate more with our friends in EPA.”

(From left) Rev. Dawn Taylor-Storm, Rev. Allen Keller, Rev. Marilyn Schneider and Donte Harper

“Joy fills our hearts as we share the greatest Easter gift: bringing comfort to Philadelphia’s incarcerated through the simple act of giving,” wrote Taylor-Storm in a Facebook post. “Our United Methodist connection shines brightly, transforming communities and spreading love where it’s needed most.”

“We need to remember that people who are incarcerated are God’s beloved sons and daughters just like us,” said Schneider, who is grateful for the generous support of donors. “Sharing God’s love with them by providing needed underwear is a good thing for us to do as Christians. So, thank you to all who participated in this ministry.”