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St. Ann Parish is a shoe-in for helping the needy

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Shoeboxes were piled high on tables in St. Ann’s parish center in Arlington Nov. 12 surrounded by a flurry of activity. It was a packing party for Cross Catholic Outreach’s “Box of Joy” program and the boxes — some the official white cardboard printed with a red ribbon, some clear plastic boxes, and others with separately wrapped lids and bottoms — were piling up.

Diego Roman, 13, and his sister, Bianca, 10, finished packing their boxes. “She managed to get much more in than me, and a lot of stuff that she’d want to get,” Diego said. He loaded his box with Star Wars things, including space pens and jelly beans, but his favorite item was the NERF gun. Bianca’s box was more “girly,” as she narrated the items while gingerly placing them in the box. “A Rudolf book, a stamp set, some lip balm and a pink Paw Patrol water bottle.”

Heather Bryant, St. Ann’s project leader and drop-off coordinator, was manning the tables and overseeing a new wave of volunteers in the afternoon — eight teens from the parish youth group, Invictus, with their director Diane Phelps. The individual shoeboxes had to be packed into master cartons and carefully labeled.

Will Rimicci, 14, a student at Bishop O’Connell High School in Arlington, said it was “a lot of fun to pack them.” His family filled a box with markers, plastic letter shapes and a stuffed giraffe among other things.

The localization of the program began with Bryant, who said she was packing boxes for a different charity a few years ago and thought there had to be a “Catholic version.” She found Cross Catholic Outreach and its “Box of Joy” project online. She and her family packed a few boxes, but the closest drop-off center was in Middletown, Md. She reached out to Cross for more information and asked her pastor, Missionhurst Father Ramel Portulo, if the parish could participate and be a collection spot. He gave her the go-ahead.

The parish gave out 600 empty boxes during the first week of October. Bryant’s goal was for 500 boxes to be filled and returned. By late afternoon Sunday, the count was 485. But by Tuesday morning, more boxes came in and the total reached 500.

Among the suggested items to pack in the gender- and age-specific boxes were small stuffed animals, crayons or self-inking stamps, safety scissors and glue sticks, hair accessories, toothbrushes and toothpaste, hard candy, and a personal note or photo.

Cross encouraged donors to consider using a 12” by 5” plastic shoebox, and to include $9 to cover shipping costs.

From Arlington, the boxes will be sent to a warehouse in Florida and then on to needy children in Haiti, Guatemala, the Dominican Republic and Nicaragua.

Tessie O’Dea, Cross relationship development manager, was on hand to help out at St. Ann’s. The project, in its fourth year, “really opens doors for all parishes and schools to work together,” she said. St. Ann also served as a drop-off spot for the boxes along with St. Theresa in Ashburn, giving diocesan donors more options.

Cross President Jim Cavnar said in a recent article in the Catholic Herald that the boxes are opened by children who “very likely will receive nothing else.”

 “We are boxing up and shipping happiness.”

For more on how the Diocese of Arlington is observing World Day of the Poor Nov. 19, go to arlingtondiocese.org/2017worlddayofthepoor.



© Arlington Catholic Herald 2017