‘Box of Joy’ organizers say giving program has even more meaning in pandemic

BOCA RATON, Fla. — U.S. Catholic parishes, schools and groups have been collecting items since the fall to share Christmas joy in small packages for children in poverty-stricken nations and will deliver the gift boxes to local drop-off centers during Box of Joy Week, Nov. 7-15.

Children are seen with “Boxes of Joy.” U.S. Catholic parishes, schools and groups pack the boxes with small gifts for children in several impoverished nations. Sponsored by Cross Catholic Outreach, the annual program planned to hold its Box of Joy Collection Week Nov. 7-15, 2020. The boxes are dropped off at various U.S. collection points to be shipped to the children. (CNS photo/courtesy Regina Caeli Academy)

Cross Catholic Outreach, a global relief and development nonprofit based in Boca Raton, has for several years now sponsored the annual Box of Joy ministry, www.boxofjoy.org, and the nonprofit’s president feels the program this year has even more meaning amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

“This year, perhaps more than any other, Box of Joy will be a small light in the darkness of the pandemic for thousands of families in Latin America who have suffered greatly,” said Jim Cavnar. “These small gifts of toys, toothbrushes, Bible stories, rosaries and crayons will be all that these children will receive for Christmas.”

Besides the items, participants include $9 in each box to cover shipment from the local drop-off center to the child. Of the $9, $2 support outreach efforts in the child’s community.

Drop-off locations include 14 Regina Caeli Academy centers: Atlanta, Baltimore, Boston, Dallas, Detroit, Phoenix, Galveston-Houston and San Antonio; Austin and Fort Worth, Texas; Baton Rouge, Louisiana; Charlotte, North Carolina; Omaha, Nebraska; and Portland, Oregon.

The boxes are then sent to Florida where Cross Catholic Outreach volunteers prepare them to be shipped to their final destination.

Last year, through the efforts of 906 participating Catholic parishes, schools and groups across 47 states utilizing 149 drop-off centers, Cross Catholic Outreach collected and delivered gift-filled Boxes of Joy to 75,797 children in Haiti, the Dominican Republic, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Grenada, the Bahamas and Guatemala.

The ministry’s goal is to increase the number of children served to 100,000 this year.

Cavnar is often asked whether a box of toys is really the best response to the poverty these children endure.

“When that box is part of a broader response of love, it is,” he said in a prepared Q-and-A released by the nonprofit. “Cross Catholic Outreach, through our network of local partners, responds to emergency needs and addresses root causes of extreme poverty.

“But for a child who has never received a gift,” he added, “what better way to combat hopelessness than with a message of hope and love. Box of Joy doesn’t replace other aid, it enhances it.”

These boxes of small gifts are “a good reminder of the strangers who gave our baby Jesus gifts at his birth, who wanted to love him the best they could and gave what they had for his enjoyment,” he said.

Cavnar described Box of Joy as a two-way ministry.

“We help the poorest of the poor share in Christmas joy. But we also share in the joy,” he explained. “That starts with selecting and packing gifts and knowing that our gifts are hand-delivered to a special child. Studies abound showing that joy comes not in spending on ourselves but in doing for others.

“Your Christmas gifts are opened by a child who will very likely receive nothing else. I repeat: nothing else. Seldom do any of us have a chance to cause such genuine happiness.”

Cross Catholic Outreach supports over 285 projects in 28 countries, particularly in areas needing disaster relief, education, food, housing, medical aid, orphan and child care, clean water and microenterprise assistance. It has active programs in Africa, Asia, the Caribbean, and Central and South America, and in 2019, gave over $9.2 million in grants.

It began the Box of Joy project as a pilot program in 2014 with just two dioceses and a handful of parishes and schools that packed boxes for children in Guatemala. In 2015, the program expanded to eight states and the next year went nationwide.

The current COVID-19 pandemic did not change the list of gift items Cross Catholic Outreach suggests for the Boxes of Joy, but one of those items — bars of hand soap — is “needed more than ever,” it noted.

The agency urge those participating creating the boxes to follow their local state restrictions on mask-wearing, social distancing and hand sanitizing if they planned to have a small group come together to pack them.

Volunteers at drop-off locations planned to wear personal protective equipment and have procedures in place for “a touch-free experience for donors.”