Students, volunteers join efforts to spread Easter joy in the jails

850 cards, some handmade, were included with individual Easter ‘baskets’ of treats

By Melissa Vlach

“Even if you may not know God very well, I can assure you that he loves you very, very much.” These words were written by Ellie, a student participating in the Cards of Mercy project, on a card destined for the San Francisco jails.

The Cards of Mercy project, coordinated by the Archdiocese of San Francisco’s Restorative Justice Ministry, invites schools and faith formation programs to design cards with bright designs and warm messages of hope. These cards are then given to those in custody in the jails for various holidays during the year.

“We must act and show a light of hope, giving assurance to people behind bars that they will never be alone, abandoned, or forgotten by him,” explained Julio Escobar, Restorative Justice coordinator.

This year students from Our Lady of the Visitacion School (San Francisco), Holy Name School (San Francisco), St. Brendan Parish (San Francisco), Mater Dolorosa Parish (South San Francisco), St. Patrick Parish (Larkspur) and St. Mark Parish (Belmont) participated in the Easter project, sending in beautifully designed cards filled with messages of love and hope.

That wasn’t the end of the project, though. On April 13, a group of volunteers — lay and religious, youth and adults — gathered and spent the day assembling goody bags to be distributed inside the jails. The bags included various snacks as well as cards. Some included the handmade cards from the student projects, while others were store-bought, with personalized messages written in those as well. Some of the volunteers wrote messages in Spanish, to better ensure the individuals would get a card that they could understand.

Volunteers write messages and organize treats to be sent to the jails.

 “A card with a nice message gives hope and joy to someone who may not have family,” said Josephine Smith, one of the day’s volunteers.

During the day of the project, the volunteers formed a sort of assembly line, with some labelling the bags and adding treats, others writing messages, and others counting and sorting cards. Students from Mercy High School and Stella Maris Academy came for shifts during the day, contributing their talents to the project.

“Sending Easter Greetings helps bridge the gap between them and us – there really is no them and us,” noted Maureen Lundy, who was volunteering with the project.

Dominican Sister Diane Smith reflected that we all make errors in our lives, although some lead to serious consequences. “Preparing Cards of Mercy for prisoners was a wonderful way to show these poor people that someone cares about them,” she said.

Yolanda Robinson, religious services coordinator for the San Francisco Sheriff’s Department, described the impact these cards have when delivered to those in the jails, explaining that many programs have been cut during the pandemic due to health restrictions. “Since this pandemic, religious services is the only thing that they have to look forward too because nobody else can do anything. So you know, we have people that cry and say, ‘Nobody thinks about us but you guys.’ So, they’re really excited about this,” she said.

Bags were also assembled for the staff of the jails, to spread Easter greetings to them as well. “The morale in the jail is really, really low right now,” Robinson stated. “So what you’re doing, lifting up the morale by us presenting them with these cards, it’s going to change the atmosphere in that jail.”

The cards were for each of the 850 inmates in the San Francisco County jails at Hall of Justice in San Francisco and in San Bruno. Another 50 were specially designated for the guards and staff of the jails.

The Cards of Mercy project will continue throughout the year, with Mother’s Day and Father’s Day next on the calendar. Visit for more details about the project.

Melissa Vlach is the social action/digital media coordinator of the Office of Human Life & Dignity at the Archdiocese of San Francisco.