Hundreds of youth celebrate the holidays courtesy of a Christmas drive thru

A child with her caregiver receive holiday gifts through Community Outreach Ministry’s drive thru Angel Tree Christmas event in December. Valley News/Community Outreach Ministry photos

Lynn K. Loyd

Special to the Valley News

Hundreds of at-risk youth from southwest Riverside County enjoyed a holiday experience as local county groups, churches and businesses pitched in to set up a Christmas drive thru event in Wildomar. In lieu of the traditional holiday party sponsored each year by Community Outreach Ministry, a nonprofit organization focused on assisting youth who have one or both parents in prison, approximately 200 children were invited to the drive-thru event. An additional drive-thru event was held Friday, Dec. 16, for those unable to attend the Sunday, Dec. 11, event due to inclement weather.

Children of all ages received food, clothing and gifts courtesy of Community Outreach Ministry, which has served at-risk youth for more than 20 years. The ministry is led by Mona Salomo-Davies, Ph.D., and her husband Bob, known as “STEM Coach Bob” to the youth for his mentoring activities. The couple collaborates each year with Angel Tree, a program of Prison Fellowship, to host an Angel Tree Christmas party for children who cannot celebrate the holidays with one or both parents because they are incarcerated. The drive thru event was held with assistance from Larry Ryan, trustee at the Wildomar Elks Lodge No. 2591 and The Habit Burger Grill Catering Truck.

A man shows gifts collected for Community Outreach Ministry’s drive thru Angel Tree Christmas event in December. Valley News/Community Outreach Ministry photos

Assistant Angel Tree coordinators Janice Hare, Johnna Hose, along with volunteers Yolanda Burgess, Patti and Elijah O’Leary, Summer and Clarissa Fears, Marilyn Brown and family and Briana Ramirez, distributed holiday meals, gifts and assorted items to those in attendance.

Founded in 1976, the Prison Fellowship program began offering at-risk youth Christmas gifts in 1982 and, to date, has given gifts to more than 11 million “angels.” The nonprofit organization is a Christian-based group that considers itself to be a leading advocate for justice reform. Prison Fellowship also provides services for prisoners and former prisoners, according to

In addition to annual holiday parties, Prison Fellowship and Community Outreach Ministry offers a host of activities and services for both children and adults, including career guidance, mentoring, camping trips and STEM workshops. This year’s annual holiday festivities included a second drive thru event hosted by The Mill Pizza Restaurant and sponsored by Dr. Michael and Karan Andersen of Cornerstone Women’s HealthCare of Murrieta. Children received complimentary meal cards donated by the Andersens. The meal cards were included in swag bags provided by Kathryn Ross who made Christmas ornaments for each child. Ross and her husband Gary created lil’ Gary’s Legacy, a Christian Resource Center in memory of their son, Gary, who committed suicide in 2002 and their daughter, Tiffany, who died 10 years later, according to the website

Volunteer Elijah O’Leary said he chose to get involved with the festivities because as a 16-year-old from Hemet, he personally benefited from the Angel Tree Christmas parties. O’Leary lives with his great aunt Patti O’Leary because his mother is in prison.

“Since I was little, I became an Angel Tree recipient of Christmas gifts from my incarcerated mother,” O’Leary said. “I have not seen or heard from my mom since I was three so getting those gifts was important. My mother has been in and out of prison for years because of drugs. I emailed Community Outreach Ministry in 2020 because I wanted to help other Angel Tree children ‘feel like I did’ when gifts arrived at Christmas from my mom. For a few years, those gifts were all I received, so it was nice. When I am around other Angel Tree kids, I feel like we all understand each other, and I am not embarrassed. The gifts make me feel like I can really be somebody.

“That feels good because I do not hear that very often. So, what you are doing is special and it means a lot to kids like me. A lot of people look down at us, so I tried to be nice because people (from the nonprofit organizations) have been nice to me and that helps kids like us a lot,” he said.

Two years ago, Salomo-Davies recommended O’Leary for the Give Something Back Foundation in San Bernardino. The mission of the foundation is to mentor youth facing hardships and provide them with scholarships. In October, O’Leary was recognized by Give Back as one of three scholars awarded for his 4.02 GPA academic achievement.

Community Outreach Ministry offered thanks for the support they received from Riverside County Supervisors Kevin Jeffries of District 1 and Chuck Washington of District 3, Lake Elsinore Sheriff Station, Crosspoint Church of Temecula and many community gift sponsors, including Wells Fargo Lake Elsinore, Southland Arthritis Rheumatology Menifee, Cathie and Bob Smith, Emily Stitt, Denise Ronzello and the many clients at Shear Expressions Hair Salon in Murrieta. Additional sponsors were Yolanda Burgess Bookkeeping, Massage Envy, Denise Gregory of Fitness 19, Chick-fil-A, Anthony’s Lounge & Ristorante and Jeff M. Prais, D.D.S. This year’s newest gift sponsors were Culture Works HR, Tyler & Bursch LLP, Advocates for Faith & Freedom, All From the Heart, Valerie A. Scola, D.D.S., Murrieta Wildomar Chamber of Commerce and Menifee Santa’s Workshop. For more information, visit

Community Outreach Ministry welcomed partners and sponsors to help support scholarships for at-risk children to engage in year-round mentor-protégé workshops in science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics. To donate, text “DONATE CHAMPIONS” to 609-212-0627. Readers can also donate online at Mail checks to Community Outreach Ministry, 23905 Clinton Keith Road Suite 114 #116, Wildomar, California 92595.

For more information, contact the ministry at 951-698-7650 or email the organization at