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‘Box of Joy’ Christmas project catches on at churches and schools across diocese

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Young people and families from parishes, schools and youth groups across the diocese helped spread Christmas joy this year with a hands-on project in which they learned about charity and the church’s humanitarian work overseas.

Katherine Reback, 17, discovered the Box of Joy project last year after her mom heard it mentioned by a priest. She knew immediately that she wanted to be involved in the project, run by Cross Catholic Outreach, a global relief nonprofit that sends shoeboxes full of small gifts to children living in extreme poverty, most of whom have never received a Christmas present. 

This year, she took the idea to her youth group at Our Lady of Good Counsel Church in Vienna, where members embraced the project and packed more than 200 boxes.

“It’s a very inspirational organization and one that my family really connected with,” said the senior at Marshall High School in Falls Church. She organized the youth group project “with a lot of help from my family,” including her younger sisters, Allie and Lizzie, twins in eighth grade at Our Lady of Good Counsel School.

Cross Catholic Outreach has given more than $1 billion in aid to developing countries since it was founded in 2001, but President Jim Cavnar said that when the Box of Joy project was launched in 2014, he was amazed at the way it captured Catholics’ imaginations. In just six years, it has grown from a pilot project in two dioceses to a nationwide ministry. Last year, more than 75,000 children in Guatemala, Haiti and other countries received boxes of small toys, school supplies and hygiene items such as toothbrushes and scented soaps.

“Katherine was the driving force behind this project,” said Derek Rogers, director of Youth Ministry at Our Lady of Good Counsel. “It’s such a beautiful, simple and empowering project for the teens to take the lead on. It’s great to see that the youth have not lost empathy in this difficult and isolating time.”

A growing number of parishes, schools and other organizations, including 15 groups in the Arlington Diocese, participated this year. 

“It’s a sweet, sweet project,” said Heather Bryant of St. Ann Church in Arlington, who has been a parish coordinator for four years. 

Bryant, an Air Force veteran and mom of a fourth grader and a sixth grader at St. Ann School, coordinated the collection and served as a regional drop-off point. Not knowing how the pandemic would affect participation, she committed to collecting 350 boxes, but ended up with more than 1,100 — 560 from St. Ann families, plus another 623 dropped off by donors outside the parish, some from as far away as Richmond. “People are very generous around here,” she said.  

“Our kids really get into it,” said Erin O’Malley, principal of St. Theresa School in Ashburn, which has 432 students in kindergarten through eighth grade, with 50 currently distance learning. Boxes went home Nov. 2 for children to fill and were returned and shipped out a couple weeks later. O’Malley said the project became part of the school’s curriculum on virtues and global acts of mercy — the virtue for November was charity, she said.

For each box packed, the donor includes a $9 check to cover shipping, $2 of which goes to support outreach in the child’s community. The organization’s website describes its work in disaster relief, education, food, housing, medical aid, orphan and child care, clean water and other programs in 28 countries.  

St. Theresa parent Beth Sargent said her daughter Macy loves packing boxes of gifts for children. “It has turned into such a great family activity for us. In today’s world, it is such a blessing to have things to do that help us think of others.” 

Find out more


Learn more about Cross Catholic Outreach’s Box of Joy ministry at boxofjoy.org



© Arlington Catholic Herald 2020