'Angel Tree' Service Project Helps Children Of Incarcerated Parents

With the pandemic raging on, one New Jersey woman is taking action to make sure children of people who are incarcerated are getting basic necessities and the support they need. CBSN New York's Lisa Rozner has the story.

Video Transcript

CHRIS WRAGGE: --the pandemic raging on, one New Jersey woman is taking action to make sure children of people who are incarcerated are getting basic necessities and any support they need. CBS 2's Lisa Rozner reports from East Orange.

LISA ROZNER: From getting new bikes to musical instruments to school supplies, these three siblings are one of dozens of children that credit their personal and professional development to 83-year-old June Lockett of East Orange.

- Miss Lockett, honestly, she's a second mother.

LISA ROZNER: In 2013, Lockett spearheaded a service project called Angel Tree, helping make sure children of incarcerated parents received gifts for the holidays. Inmates provide their children's names to the nonprofit Prison Fellowship who then looks for angels to help. In this case, they are Lockett and her sisters in the Beta Alpha Omega chapter of the historic African-American national sorority, Alpha Kappa Alpha.

JUNE LOCKETT: Well, the purpose was first just to give a Christmas gift in the name of the parent so that the child knew the parent was thinking about them and loved them.

LISA ROZNER: June even got her church family involved, having them help organize a special Christmas dinner here the last several years. Volunteers from the Bethel Presbyterian Church of East Orange also look after Lockett's extended children from the Angel Tree program. It grew from 25 recipients the first year to close to 100 more recently.

- It helps a lot knowing that you're not alone with what you're going through.

- It was extremely beautiful to be able to get that-- that help.

LISA ROZNER: Several years ago, Angela Moore says her brother Vincent put her three kids on the Angel Tree list.

- You know, we were a little struggling at that time.

- We knew that he was thinking of us that whole time, and we were thinking of him.

- My uncle, honestly, has always been around for my life, from since I was like four. I would definitely say he's someone who raised me.

LISA ROZNER: So he was not surprised the angels his uncle sent built a bond that lasted year-round, even moving him into the dorms for his freshman year at William Paterson University.

- Honestly, one thing I was kind of worried about was-- like, I wasn't worried about books or anything or tuition. It was more so the other stuff from bedding, sheets, pillows, because you're essentially moving out and starting-- starting your own-- own life. But Angel Tree helped with all that, and that-- that's something that they're really good at is easing a lot of the problems that you may think about.

- They've helped me, of course, get an oboe to continue playing after high school, and they-- I learned how to ride a bike because of them.

LISA ROZNER: The New Jersey Institute for Social Justice says programs like Angel Tree fill a need. New Jersey has the highest black-to-white incarceration disparity in the nation. It's 12 to 1 for adults and 21 to 1 for youth.

- What we're seeing is, there isn't an investment in the communities that's aligning with the investment our state is making in incarceration.

LISA ROZNER: But for Lockett, who is a retired Newark principal and the daughter of a nurse, this is part of her lifelong pledge of service to all mankind.

JUNE LOCKETT: I have one family. The caregiver has just returned from the hospital. She is on oxygen 24/7. She has two children, and we make sure that they get water and food. And it's a joy to know these families, because they're just great.

LISA ROZNER: This sweet message recorded for June's pastor who was ill one time.

- We miss you.

- Love you.

- Love you.

LISA ROZNER: Loving every child as if they were her own.

JUNE LOCKETT: OK, you guys. Take care.

LISA ROZNER: In East Orange, New Jersey, Lisa Rozner, CBS 2 News.