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Inmates donate to fight COVID-19

Rev. Henry Hansard, chaplain at the Benner Township Prison in Bellefonte, Pa., presents a check for $1,200 for COVID-19 relief to Captain Daniel Gonzalez, administrator for the Adult Rehabilitation Center (ARC) in Altoona, Pa., on behalf of inmates at the prison.

“About 8 months ago when I went to Benner Township Prison, I thought I would speak to just a few inmates,” said Captain Daniel Gonzalez, administrator for the Adult Rehabilitation Center (ARC) in Altoona, Pa. However, he was in for a big surprise.

“There were almost 300 men in a huge gym where they conducted a beautiful service. I thought, Gosh, I don’t even feel as if I’m in a prison!” said Gonzalez. At the end of the message, as many as 50 men came forward, knelt at the altar, and earnestly prayed to God.

Opened in April 2013, the $200 million prison consists of 46 acres inside the perimeter’s fence and 589,492 sq. ft., under one roof. It has a population of about 2,000 inmates.

Previously, Gonzalez had attended an event where he met Rev. Henry Hansard, a native of Altoona who serves as chaplain at Benner, which is a medium security state correctional facility in Bellefonte, Pa. “I talked to him a little bit about The Salvation Army,” said Gonzalez. “At that point, he knew little about the Army, but said, ‘Listen, I want you to come down and speak on a Sunday.’ He invited me to preach at the prison for their Sunday service.”

Gonzalez’s visit was the first of several services he attended at Benner, which included a Black History Month observance. As keepsakes, Gonzalez gave inmates copies of Salvation Army publications such as the War Cry and SACONNECTS magazines.

Gradually, Gonzalez began to develop a relationship with some of the men. “There was one prisoner who kept coming up to ask questions about The Salvation Army. He said that he wanted to get connected with us and help raise money for the Army,” said Gonzalez.

One day, Hansard told Gonzalez that men of the “Church of the Living Hope” at  Benner had gotten together and started a fundraiser for different ministries in the area, which included The Salvation Army.

“At first, I was skeptical and wondered how they could do this,” said Gonzalez. He then witnessed a group of incarcerated men exercise their freedom of choice. “They have chosen the Salvation Army ARC here in Altoona, Pa., to help us in our efforts to fight COVID-19,” said Gonzalez. The inmates raised $3,000, divided the money to donate to various ministries, and joyfully released $1,200 to The Salvation Army.

by Warren L. Maye

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