Offender Victim Ministries is encouraging people to embrace the spirit of love with a new Commit A Radical Act This Valentine’s Day campaign.
The campaign asks the public to come to one of two events where they will be given the opportunity to write notes of encouragement to Hutchinson Correctional Facility inmates.
"This is not an expression of romantic love at all," said OVM Executive Director Libby Schrag. "This is just encouragement, kind words."
OVM will provide cards they have purchased or have received as donations. Participants can also bring in their own cards or stationery to write in.
"We're trying, as much as possible, to get cards from local artists," Schrag said.
The organization's goal is to collect at least 1,100 letters to distribute at Hutchinson Correctional Facility.
"I feel like it's very attainable, so I'm excited about it," Schrag said. "There's a total of 1,800 inmates."
Those writing notes will be asked to sign them with only their first name, to ensure inmates cannot trace the individual it came from.
"We'll be hand-delivering them to the prison," Schrag said. "We'll be double-checking to make sure everything is appropriate before it gets distributed."
Both adults and children can participate by writing multiple letters.
"A lot of these guys are fathers who don't have the kind of contact with their kids that they would want, and so I think that could be meaningful in its own way," Schrag said.
OVM will provide samples for letter writers to follow.
"You can either use those as your script or use that to work from — to know what to say that would be helpful," Schrag said. "It's sincerely the thought of recognizing that they're there. You want to reach out and say 'hope this brightens your day', or 'hope this helps you through this winter.'"
The inspiration for Commit a Radical Act came from stories of the life of St. Valentine's, who reached out to others through letters while a prisoner himself.
"In a way, it ties in with what we're doing," Schrag said. "We picked up on that theme and wanted to use it as an opportunity to communicate with the population we work with."
The Commit A Radical Act This Valentine's Day events will be held from 7 to 8:30 p.m. on Feb. 13 at the Amish Community Building, 5917 W. Mills Ave in Hutchinson and from 9 to 11 a.m. Feb. 14 at Mennonite Central Committee Central States, 121 E. 30th St. in North Newton. Cinnamon rolls and coffee will be provided at the North Newton event.
"I think this has been informative to me and interesting to really broaden my understanding of what Valentine's Day is about and to really use it as an occasion for a much broader definition of love and encouragement than just flowers and candy and chocolate," Schrag said. "I think this really simple act will be powerful."
OVM is partnering with Mennonite Central Committee and inviting area churches and individuals to participate in a drive for items for men's prisoner care kits for indigent inmates. Hygiene items such as underwear, T-shirts, socks, toothpaste, deodorant, soap and lotion will be packaged into kits during the Feb. 14 Commit A Radical Act event at MCC.
"They get some things from the facility, but this is just another way to say we see you, we care about you and we want to lift your spirits in some way," Schrag said.
OVM also coordinates programs that give HCF inmates the opportunity to learn about the arts and participate in monthly visits from volunteers.
"We know that it makes a huge difference," Schrag said. "It lifts their spirits. They're often shocked to find that anybody would still care about them, given the circumstances of where they're at. I know that it's incredibly touching and meaningful and transformative for them to have anybody recognize their humanity in that place."
For more information about Offender Victim Ministries and the Commit a Radical Act campaign, visit http://www.offendervictimministries.org or call 316-283-2038.