‘Box of Joy’ program aims to give poor children Christmas joy

Oshkosh parish participates in outreach program benefitting thousands

OSHKOSH — More than 300 Christmas gift boxes were packaged by volunteers Dec. 3 at the annual St. Nicholas Festival at St. Jude the Apostle Church. The boxes, filled with small toys, treats and essentials like soap, pencils and toothbrushes, will be sent to Boca Raton, Fla., home of Cross Catholic Outreach, a nonprofit relief and development agency.

Mary Dobbins stacks boxes on a table as volunteers sort gifts at St. Jude the Apostle Church in Oshkosh Dec. 3. More than 300 boxes filled with toys, school supplies and hygiene items were packaged and will be sent to Cross Catholic Outreach in Florida for shipment to children in four poverty-stricken countries. (Jeannette Merten | For The Compass)

It’s all part of the organization’s “Box of Joy” program. Now in its fourth year, the boxes are shipped to children in four poverty-stricken countries: Haiti, the Dominican Republic, Guatemala and Nicaragua.

“Cross Catholic has been working worldwide with parishes and schools since 1988,” said Michele Spanbauer, administrator of religious education at St. Jude the Apostle Parish. “Their Box of Joy program helps many in severe poverty and allows people like us in Oshkosh to help make a difference for those we could not otherwise reach in areas so far away.”

According to Cross Catholic, more than 300 Catholic groups, parishes and schools around the country signed up to participate in the 2017 Box of Joy program.

“People jump at a chance to serve God by packing and sending help and hope,” said Jim Cavnar, president of Cross Catholic Outreach. “If you could see the faces of the kids on the receiving end, you’d see we’re hardly packing just toys and supplies. We’re boxing up and shipping happiness.”

Cavnar said the Box of Joy program has grown quickly in four years. In 2014, the pilot year for the program, the agency had two dioceses and “a handful of parishes and schools” helping to brighten Christmas for children in Guatemala, he said. The following year 12 dioceses sent gifts to over 11,500 children in Haiti and Guatemala.

In 2016, participation went nationwide and 32,000 children in Haiti, Guatemala and the Dominican Republic received boxes. This year, boxes will also be sent to children in Nicaragua.

“We have all been very blessed here at St. Jude,” said Spanbauer. “Our children have a roof over their heads, food on the table and enough clothes to fill a closet. The virtue of charity, giving back to those in need, is one that is taught. The beauty of teaching your child or grandchild this virtue is that they not only make a donation, they also help make a difference. Sharing the experience of giving can be the most rewarding present you give your child this holiday season.”