(OSV News) — Ten years ago, 4-year-old Dolce Maria was the first child in her community in Guatemala to receive a Box of Joy from Cross Catholic Outreach.
Cross Catholic Outreach President Michele Sagarino recently traveled to Guatemala, driving over bumpy dirt roads for hours, to deliver Boxes of Joy to children in rural communities. While there, she met Dolce Maria, now 14, who “shared the impact the Christmas boxes have made in her community,” Sagarino said.
“On the faces of these children, you can truly see the love, joy and hope these boxes bring through Our Lord and his church,” she said.
Over the past decade, Cross Catholic Outreach, a nonprofit based in Boca Raton, Florida, has given more than a half-million children a Box of Joy — hand-packed gift boxes donated by families, parishes, schools, scout troops, ministries and charitable organizations across the United States.
Last year, nearly 119,000 children around the world received a Box of Joy filled with new toys, dolls, games, books, crayons, coloring books and everyday necessities such as clothing, toothbrushes and soap. A handmade rosary and a book about Jesus also were tucked inside every box.
“When they receive these boxes, it’s a huge celebration, people walk for hours to come to the distribution,” Sagarino said.
Reaching communities throughout the world
Cross Catholic Outreach serves communities in more than 30 countries around the world, including the Dominican Republic, where they are distributing food and digging wells for clean drinking water in addition to delivering Boxes of Joy.
“Being able to be a part of the Box of Joy drops was emotional,” said Brandi Milloy, an ambassador for Cross Catholic Outreach who traveled to the Dominican Republic in March.
“Watching them looking at the pretty dolls, colorful new crayons, admiring the shininess of a new Matchbox car, and even marveling at how a new book feels in their hand — it was very moving,” she said. “These children look at every single thing people donate and put in there, and they are mesmerized.”
Milloy — a Catholic mom, podcaster and food program host — held a successful Box of Joy toy drive for her 40th birthday this summer. Several toy companies contributed to her efforts, and combined with items donated by her party guests, a total of 72 Boxes of Joy were filled to the brim, with a surplus of toys left over for the upcoming Christmas Box of Joy collection season.
Jocelyn Rios, 11, and her American Heritage Girls Troop No. 204 from Sts. Simon and Jude Parish in The Woodlands, Texas, have filled more than 171 Boxes of Joy in the past two years.
“I like to put things like Dominos, little bouncy balls, fun games, coloring books and tiny toys they can play with in the boxes,” Jocelyn said. “I hope that when they receive their boxes they will be super excited and be so happy. I want everyone to have a great Christmas.”
In July, Tessie O’Dea, a Cross Catholic Outreach staff member, was hiking in Guatemala while on a mission trip with high school students from Virginia, when she encountered a little boy who recognized the Cross Catholic Outreach logo on her shirt.
The boy, Abell, “ran to his hut and came back with a Box of Joy,” O’Dea recalled. “The students with me were in shock that this little boy had still kept the box intact, toys and all.”
As he was showing the group his box, his mother, who was with him, turned around. O’Dea realized it was a woman she had met seven years before while in Guatemala, who had carried a baby on her hip that day. He was that little boy.
“I was amazed!” O’Dea said. “It was a beautiful moment.”
“His mother asked him to explain why he learned to say the rosary (which was in his Box of Joy),” O’Dea recalled. “‘I learned to say the rosary, and I say a rosary every night for Doug and Donna,’ the little boy said. It was the couple that filled his Box of Joy and included a signed Christmas card. He doesn’t know who they are, but they are being prayed for every night.”
The rosaries are donated by groups around the U.S., including Catholic schools and rosary-making guilds. The National Council of Catholic Women recently donated 10,000 rosaries for the Boxes of Joy program.
Knights of Columbus councils across the country also dedicate time to filling, packing and shipping Boxes of Joy to the processing center in Doral, Florida.
Knight Alex Lopez-Bueno has served as the Box of Joy program chairman for the Maryland Knights of Columbus for the past four years. He rallied 49 councils and ladies’ auxiliaries to fill 5,597 boxes last fall, with a total of 15,674 boxes filled since 2019.
“It’s a really good way to evangelize and show the love of God to children and others,” Bueno said “I can’t imagine their faces when they open the box. I can’t imagine their happiness! When they see the people in the U.S. are doing this for them, I hope if they are not believers, they will see there is a God.”
Registration for the Box of Joy program runs through Oct. 27 for the 2023 season. Box of Joy gifts can be delivered to drop-off centers during Box of Joy Week Nov. 4-12 for the Christmas Box of Joy distribution. Drop-off center locations are listed here.
In Maryland, Bueno is doubling this year’s goal to 10,000 boxes.
“There is so much need in the world,” he said. “If we unite to help the kids and the people in the world who are in need, the world will be completely changed.”