The Impact of a Box of Joy®

Written by Tessie O’Dea, Relationship Development Manager, Cross Catholic Outreach, [email protected]

In the United States, the average child goes to bed on Christmas Eve eagerly awaiting the arrival of a morning filled with excitement and colorful gifts. Their minds are not preoccupied with worries about the roof over their heads or if there will be food on the table. Instead, they dream of a day filled with joy and celebration.

Sadly, in developing countries, worries about food, housing and water are all too common. Children in countries such as Haiti, Guatemala and Malawi have rarely, if ever, seen a Christmas gift, and while their humble communities mark the birth of Christ, they are happy if the day includes a special meal. Most can’t imagine an escape from the hardships of poverty they’ve known their whole lives.

That’s why the Box of Joy team has been working hard to make the unimaginable possible! And — thanks to compassionate Catholics around the U.S. — those efforts have been fruitful. Since Cross Catholic Outreach launched the Box of Joy ministry in 2014, U.S. Catholic parishes, schools, groups, families and individuals have united to bless 646,163 children around the world with Christmas gifts. The impact of these gifts over the past decade has been deeply felt in communities across Latin America, the Caribbean and Africa.

Dulce Maria’s story is a shining example of this.

Dulce Maria’s first interaction with Cross Catholic Outreach was as a 6-year-old receiving a Box of Joy. Today, she is a teenager, and her family recently received a new home!

Dulce Maria’s Story: A Legacy of Joy

In 2015, Cross Catholic Outreach’s CEO, Jim Cavnar, personally gave a Box of Joy to little Dulce Maria in Guatemala. As she held up her very own new doll with delight, others on hand for the occasion captured images of her bright, shining eyes and smile. Since then, thousands of people in the U.S. have seen Dulce Maria’s photos and videos, and she has inspired many to participate in Box of Joy events to help other children like her.

On a recent visit to Guatemala, Jim, along with President Michele Sagarino and other Cross Catholic Outreach staff, visited Dulce Maria in her village. Her family smiled, knowing that the footage of Dulce Maria’s joy had inspired thousands of U.S. Catholics to give Christmas gifts to other children in need. Now a young teen, Dulce Maria has a new dream. She wants to continue her education and become a lawyer one day.

The family’s journey with Cross Catholic Outreach may have started in 2015 with a Box of Joy, but it didn’t end there. In 2021, Cross Catholic Outreach blessed Dulce Maria and her family with a secure new home with sturdy walls and a roof to keep them safe and dry.

How Your School Can Help

Mount Carmel Academy in New Orleans, Louisiana has made Box of Joy an annual event in their school calendar — and we pray your school community will consider doing the same.

Box of Joy is an instrument of mercy God uses to bless young lives — but its continuation and expansion are only possible if U.S. Catholic schools and other groups are willing to share their resources and engage their students in this gift-giving outreach to help children in need.

The shoebox-sized gifts that participating individuals, groups and parishes pack are sources of immense joy in the communities that receive them. On a Box of Joy distribution day, the whole village gathers to celebrate with song, dance and prayers of thanksgiving. And when the gifts are opened, the children are delighted to see the boxes filled with items selected for them by caring families and students in the U.S.

As an example, a Box of Joy may include:

  • Toys, such as soccer balls, dolls, mini puzzles and jump ropes.
  • Clothing, such as socks, T-shirts and hats, to protect them from the harsh sun.
  • School supplies, such as pencils and notepads, to help children achieve their big dreams.

Students who pack a box are also encouraged to include a personal note or drawing to encourage their school-age peers a world away. Once the gifts these families and students fill reach Cross Catholic Outreach’s screening center, volunteers add a rosary and The Story of Jesus to each gift box. Altogether, the contents are fun, practical and encouraging.

For the schools that take part, this outreach serves as a wonderful and engaging extracurricular activity. In addition to being the perfect way to involve the entire school in a service project, it also helps teach participating students about the works of mercy.

Cross Catholic Outreach prays you will join the many schools that have already made this an annual school activity. You can help meet the goal of sending Box of Joy gifts to even more children during this next Christmas season.

Box of Joy is a registered trademark of Cross Catholic Outreach.