Steven Chorvas regrets not being there on Christmas morning for his own children and grandchildren.
But now Chorvas, an inmate at the Lebanon Correctional Institution, is hoping to make Christmas brighter for other needy children.
Chorvas is one of dozens of inmates who’ve helped to raise more than $5,200 to benefit the Butler-Warren County Marine Corps Reserves Toys for Tots. The toys were officially given to the Marines on Wednesday.
“It’s a way of stepping up and taking some responsibility for somebody’s kid out there,” said Chorvas, a former Marine now serving 23 years to life for murder. “Every person out there needs somebody to think about them and look out for them even if they don’t know them.”
This is the sixth year for the partnership, which is spearheaded and organized by prison military veterans groups with assistance from prison staff. The first year in 2007, only employees donated.
Inmates organize year round within prison walls to hold fundraising events, such as selling pizza or doughnuts, or by offering inmates the chance to take a photo of themselves to send home to family and friends.
Prisoners pay out of their limited commissary funds and money earned on work details. Their efforts raise between $5,000-$7,000 a year, which staff then use to purchase toys.
“From a prison management perspective and as a warden, you’re constantly striving to get inmates to do positive things,” said Warden Ernie Moore. “They’re getting together and talking about ways they can raise money to give to a bunch of needy kids in the community. That’s a win-win.”
Anna Tannreuther, assistant coordinator with the Butler-Warren toys group, said the prisoner-led drive marks the organization’s largest contribution of the year. Last year they provided gifts for more than 9,000 children and expect to serve even more children this holiday season.
“These guys are making the greatest contribution to their community that they can even though they’re behind bars,” she said. “They’re doing something meaningful.
Henry Thomas, who’s serving three years on a drug charge, says giving back helps him make up for past mistakes
“[Prisoners] don’t have the opportunity to give back in any other ways, so I think this is an excellent chance for people to give back what they can,” he said.
The holidays are especially bleak for inmates, but many say they take comfort in the fact that they’re spreading joy to others from behind prison bars.
“We’re giving back in the hopes that somebody else will see it as an example and step up and do the next thing,” said Chorvas. “This is a responsibility as a citizen. Even if we’re locked up, we’re citizens. And we should want to help our neighbors.”