By KATIE BORKOWSKI
The Box of Joy program is an annual Christmas gift ministry organized by local Catholic schools, parishes and groups across the United States and facilitated by Cross Catholic Outreach, an ecumenical Christian network that seeks to aid the poorest of the poor.
“Our religious education program discussed doing individual classroom projects this fall or joining efforts for one larger service project,” said Kathy Steffen, director of religious education at Sacred Heart. “The focus of the service project was to bring forth the spiritual and corporal works of mercy. Cross Catholic Outreach had been promoting Box of Joy on Catholic radio during this time.”
She added after investigating Box of Joy online and speaking with Cross Catholic Outreach, the parish chose to participate and also be a drop-off center.
“This required more work on our part to be a center, but it also allowed for the first center in Iowa to be on the Cross Catholic Outreach Box of Joy site,” said Steffen. “This enabled other parishes, schools and individuals to participate in Box of Joy and have a site to deliver boxes.”
The project was open to all parish members, religious education students and school students to participate in preparing boxes of joy or provide donations to help ship boxes. Students, catechists and volunteers of the religious education program provided the volunteer hours to collect boxes and prepare them for shipping.
Emily Braun, a senior at Boone High School and parishioner at Sacred Heart, donated a box and helped out with collecting the boxes from people of the parish.
“I decided to participate because it is a great opportunity to help others in need and also spread Christmas cheer,” she said. “Lots of times we take things for granted but this project really lets us focus on giving to those who wouldn’t receive anything for Christmas. This project reminded me of all the blessings that I have and also that God wants us to share what we have with others.”
Missy Kramme-Franks and her sons David Franks (14) and Robbie Franks (12) participated by putting together 10 boxes as a family as well as volunteering to accept boxes, pack them and haul them to the storage facility.
“My husband is deployed for the fifth time – missing Christmas again, two years in a row,” said the Sacred Heart parishioner. “Box of Joy was our way to help those less fortunate than us. Living and doing the Acts of Mercy makes your soul feel complete.”
The family plans to help again next year, as an entire family.
“A new family tradition has been started,” said Kramme-Franks. “We are so grateful that we participated in the Box of Joy.”
Sherry Gute, a Sacred Heart parishioner, watched the online promotional video for Box of Joy and discussed participating. She and her five kids put together boxes for two girls and two boys. They also volunteered at the parish office to receive and put Boxes of Joy into shipping boxes.
“We felt compassion for those children and a desire to do something for these children who have so little,” she said. “The project led my children and me to including the needs of these children and the successful delivery of the boxes in their bedtime prayers.”
Gute’s daughter Anna commented it felt good knowing the boxes would bring joy to kids “my age, and that they would have some presents to celebrate Christmas with. It really made me realize how much we have and how little they have.”
“It led us to realize and discuss how very blessed we are by our needs being met—a solid roof over our heads, food always on the table, clean water, medicine when we need it, and how hard life must be to not have basic necessities,” said Gute. “The intention in these boxes is to let these children know we care about them, and love them as brothers and sisters in Christ.”
Steffen thought the first effort was successful in preparing 90 Boxes of Joy and collecting donations for shipping for Cross Catholic Outreach.
“The project was also successful in building awareness of children who live in severe poverty for our students who live in the United States and are blessed in so many material ways,” she noted. “It helped students see in the videos what Catholic priests and sisters do as missionaries for the people living in extreme poverty.”
Gute said her family is excited for the children to open the boxes and “wish we could be there to share their excitement and joy. Also, this project was a reminder that a basic need is knowing someone cares and loves you.”
“The special reward will be this Christmas as we open our gifts and remember with joy – somewhere in Haiti, Guatemala or Nicaragua a child will be receiving a Box of Joy that will have a lasting impact on their life,” said Steffen.
For more information about Box of Joy visit CrossCatholic.org/BoxOfJoy.