The basics: Fonda Lehman of Fresno has been involved in Operation Christmas Child for several years, but it wasn’t until this year that she turned her focus to helping prisoners get involved in the organization, too.
Operation Christmas Child packs shoeboxes full of toys and ships them internationally as “a tangible expression of God’s love for a child in real need.” It is a project of the international Christian relief and evangelism organization, Samaritan’s Purse.
What she does: Lehman has expanded Pinedale Community Fellowship’s involvement in the organization, and now is turning her focus to getting women incarcerated involved in charity.
Lehman sends rectangles of sturdy paper to women’s prisons and encourages them to decorate them, then turns them into bookmarks for the Operation Christmas Child shoeboxes. She also encourages those incarcerated to draw pictures for children in need.
Why she does it: “I wanted to get the girls involved in something beyond themselves and beyond prison,” Lehman said. “It reminds them that they’re not just a person sitting in a jail – that they can help somebody even there. It never matters where you are in life, you are not limited to what you can do for others.”
The turning point: Lehman’s daughter, Regina, died in a jail in North Dakota in July. Regina Lehman, 44, had struggled for years with an addiction to crack cocaine, and was arrested on drug charges.
After injuring her leg in jail, she died after contracting sepsis – a life-threatening complication of an infection. “The night before she died, she said, ‘Mom, it’s OK, whatever happens. I’m not stressing. I’m just leaving it to God,’ ” Lehman said.
“I am so thankful for the time that we had on the phone those days. I had never seen her with such resolve to do what’s right.”
Details, details: An artistic person, Regina Lehman – who was born and raised in Fresno – came up with the idea to get her fellow inmates involved in something charitable.
Now Fonda Lehman sees it as her daughter’s legacy. “She’s the one that got these girls involved, and we are going to try to carry it on.” Fonda Lehman was preparing for her daughter’s release, and had rented her a small house in Fresno. Regina Lehman had vowed to help her mother with her Operation Christmas Child projects once she was released from jail, but that never happened.
“It wasn’t to be,” Fonda Lehman said. “I just thank God that it wasn’t where she was out on the streets when I got the call. She was sober, and I felt like I was so blessed by that.”
What others say: Yolanda Callahan, coordinator for the Fresno-area Operation Christmas Child, says Lehman’s small congregation at Pinedale creates more shoeboxes for children than the Valley’s largest churches. “She works year-round to generate shoeboxes, and consistently they give us around 500 a year. She’s amazing.”
Callahan says Lehman knows that the shoeboxes are more than just a nice gesture.
“She understands that this isn’t so much about the shoeboxes – it’s not just about the gifts – it’s giving children the gospel of Jesus Christ, the greatest gift,” she said.