LA CROSSE, Wisconsin (WXOW) - Opening presents with family on Christmas morning is a tradition for many kids.
But not all of them have that opportunity.
Deacon Tom Skemp, La Crosse County chaplain, has spent his week collecting piles of presents for 117 kids.
He's playing Santa Claus while these kids' parents are behind bars during Christmas.
Skemp is running the Angel Tree. It's when members of Presbyterian Church of West Salem and North Presbyterian volunteer to buy a toy or clothes as a Christmas present for the child of a La Crosse County Jail inmate.
They're given a card with the child's name and on the back, how old the child is and whether they want a toy or clothes, Skemp said.
"I think it's harder on the kids. They don't understand what's going on often and they just want to be with their parents and this is a way for the parents to connect with the kids, even if they're not able to physically be there," Skemp said.
Mirika is an inmate in the jail. Thanks to the Angel Tree, her nine-year-old daughter and four-year-old son could get presents from her for Christmas.
"It gives them an opportunity to still get gifts from me and know that they're in my thoughts and I want to be with them," she said.
This is the first Christmas Mirika doesn't get to celebrate with her kids.
Every Christmas for the past six years, Marcia Kazmark, a member of the Presbyterian Church of West Salem, has participated in the Angel Tree.
Her grandkids benefited from the program. Participating is her way to give back and make another child's Christmas a special one.
"They know somebody cares. Somebody did this for them," Kazmark said.
"It means a lot to them," said Curtis Sails, who used Saturday to pick up Angle Tree presents for his son and nephew.
Sails' wife is in jail.
"They big smile and say, 'Oh, what I always wanted!' And, they don't even know what it is," Sails said, imagining the boys opening their presents Christmas morning.
Many of the people picking up presents said the Angel Tree is a way for kids to connect with their mom or dad until they can finally spend Christmas with them in person.
"Thanks for everybody for going out of their way and helping people at this time of the year and it's a wonderful thing to do," said Harry Declute, who picked up presents for his two grandsons Saturday. "They say it's more blessed to give than to receive so, I'm happy to be part of it."
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