By Maisy Sullivan | Catholic News Service
WASHINGTON (CNS) — As Christmas approaches, it is important to remember the true essence of the season.
In a materialistic world, people often want to give and receive the trendiest gifts, but Cross Catholic Outreach in Boca Raton, Florida, likes to remind people of the importance of service and compassion during the Christmas season.
It does just that with its annual “Box of Joy” program.
Box of Joy encourages people nationwide to give back to less fortunate children in countries around the world. Parishes and schools band together to pack boxes full of toys, school supplies, essentials such as soap and toothpaste, rosaries and “The Story of Jesus” in recipients’ native languages.
“People jump at a chance to serve God by packing and sending help and hope,” said Jim Cavnar, who has been president of Cross Catholic Outreach since its founding in 2001. “If you could see the faces of the kids on the receiving end, you would see we are not just packing toys and supplies; we are boxing up and shipping happiness!”
Cross Catholic Outreach encourages all types of groups to participate and donate to Box of Joy: dioceses, individual parishes, schools, and even families.
The website boxofjoy.org gives a list of helpful suggestions as to how to get involved; this year’s effort has been underway since early September.
Since it was started as a pilot program in 2014, the program has become a flourishing ministry, where now tens of thousands of children’s Christmas experiences are filled with joy each year.
The number of countries that Box of Joy has provided for also has increased; Guatemala was the lone nation helped in 2014. In 2020, Cross Catholic sent boxes to children in Haiti, Guatemala, Dominican Republic, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Grenada and Honduras.
In 2014, just U.S. two dioceses and a handful of parishes and schools prepared the boxes. In 2015, the program expanded to participation from eight states and the next year went nationwide, with many organizations, parishes and schools participating.
Among schools that are involved is Regina Caeli Academy, a home-school hybrid academy with 23 centers across the country. The school has been participating in Box of Joy for three years, encouraging students and family members to understand service and giving of oneself.
Regina Caeli Academy, based in Georgia, looked forward to again being part of Box of Joy because the ministry gives presents specifically to children in need around the globe, rather than primarily raising money, according to Kari Beckman, Regina Caeli Academy’s executive director.
She said the ministry is special because it embodies Catholic values of compassion and charity and the “effort, time and treasure” involved directly impacts recipients.
“What I see with my students is a great change in them as the givers,” Beckman told Catholic News Service. “They grow in gratitude for what they have, which is a gift that I think all of us should cultivate. In being part of Box of Joy, that is what the ministry does.”
Regina Caeli Academy fosters the growth of the “good, beautiful and true,” as Beckman described it, and Box of Joy provides an outlet to the schools’ communities to give what is “good, beautiful and true” to these children.
Regina Caeli Academy — https://rcahybrid.org — has set its own goal of putting together 6,000 boxes set as its goal, but some of its schools also will serve as drop-off locations for others’ boxes.
A full list of drop-off centers, including the Regina Caeli centers, can be found at https://crosscatholic.org/box-of-joy/drop-off-centers. All of these locations will be operating only during Box of Joy Week, Nov. 6-14.
The boxes are then sent to Florida where Cross Catholic Outreach volunteers prepare them to be shipped to their final destination.
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.
In 2020, despite the pandemic, more than 720 U.S. organizations participated in Box of Joy, including 162 schools, 322 parishes and 239 religious or civic groups across 47 states. They utilized hundreds of local drop-off centers.
Cross Catholic Outreach collected the gift-filled boxes and delivered them to 61,422 children in Haiti, the Dominican Republic, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Honduras, Grenada and Guatemala.
Box of Joy fosters the Catholic values of faith, hope and charity and is beneficial to both the giver and receiver, creating a relationship between the two by means of compassion through service, according to Cavnar.
“As you experience the joy of serving, you are helping those in deepest need to experience Christmas joy,” he said.