Instead of celebrating Christmas with their families this year, thousands of Camdenites will be behind bars, in county jails or state prisons.

A city nonprofit group is trying to collect enough toys and money to host a Christmas party for the children of incarcerated parents.
The Camden Dream Center, a faith-based reentry, mentoring and support program affiliated with Evangelism Today Christian Church on Mt. Ephraim Avenue, is hosting a toy drive this week to give 50 children "gifts their parents would wish for them to have," said Pastor Keith Davis.

Financial donations are being accepted to cover the cost of the party, which will include live music.

Since the summer, the center has brought together relatives of those nearing the end of their prison or jail sentences.

"The idea is for the family to be aware of barriers the loved one will be facing" when they reenter society, Davis said.

The state Department of Corrections releases about 3,000 individuals into Camden County each year, the majority going to the city, according to data collected by the Walter Rand Institute for Public Affairs at Rutgers-Camden.

On Saturday, there won't be any prison talk, though. The plan is to have a lively atmosphere so the 50 or so children — ranging from infants to 17-year-olds — will feel cared for despite the absence of their parents.

Checks made payable to KFL-CDC may be dropped off or mailed to the center through the end of the year. The center is located at 1658 Mt. Ephraim Ave., Camden, NJ 08104.

Friday is the last day to drop off new gift items at the same location. They will be distributed during the party at 9 a.m. Saturday. For more information, call 856-757-4899.