BOCA RATON, Fla. — Cross Catholic Outreach’s Box of Joy program is “a way for people anywhere to pack a Christmas gift box and deliver it to a child who otherwise would receive nothing,” said the president of the Florida-based organization.p3story3

Jim Cavnar said the program started out small in 2014 to give U.S. Catholics an opportunity to send Christmas presents to poor children and “the response was overwhelming.”

“Between that pilot program and the second year, we were able to help 330 percent more children,” he told Catholic News Service in an email interview.

The 2016 Box of Joy program is well underway with almost 300 parishes schools and other groups participating to date. But there is still time to get involved.

Participants are asked to buy simple items — small toys, bar soap, pencils, a toothbrush, toothpaste, hard candy, crayons, coloring books or T-shirts — and pack them in a Christmas gift box to be delivered to poor children in Haiti, Guatemala and the Dominican Republic who otherwise would receive nothing for Christmas.

A $9 donation per box covers the shipment and helps support Catholic ministries working in the children’s communities.

From Nov. 5-13, the boxes are to be collected at the local drop-off centers and trucked to the Cross Catholic’s national screening center in Miami. From Nov. 19 to Dec. 3, the gifts are to be screened and prepared for shipment to children overseas.[su_pullquote align=”right”]Visit or call (800) 914-2420, Ext. 142 for information.[/su_pullquote]

Cross Catholic Outreach is ministry that serves the poorest of the poor internationally by channeling aid through dioceses, parishes and Catholic missionaries. The organization says that is a cost-effective way to help the poor break the cycle of poverty “while advancing Catholic evangelization.”

Cavnar noted that the Cross Catholic Outreach “was founded quite recently – in 2001 – but God quickly blessed us with the opportunity to engage millions of Catholics in the U.S. with our mission to help the poor.”

“We do this by channeling their generous financial gifts efficiently and effectively through our in-country Catholic ministries faithfully serving the most impoverished areas around the world,” he said.

As the organization’s relationship with U.S. Catholics has grown, “we began hearing that many wanted to do more than just write checks,” Cavnar said. “They wanted to do something tangible – something hands-on. In the Catholic world, there was a void in this area, so we created a small Box of Joy program.”

“This year, we would like to reach at least 20,000 impoverished children with a Box of Joy and the hope of the Gospel,” he told CNS.

He called it “an ambitious goal,” but said the boxes are transformative, especially for children who face “one challenging day of deprivation after another with no sense of hope or joy in life. Through the Box of Joy program, Catholics can change that situation.”

“And I can tell you, the gifts do something profound. They tell kids that they have value and hope … not just any hope, but a hope in Christ,” he explained.

In every box, Cavnar said, Cross Catholic Outreach includes a “Story of Jesus” booklet written in the child’s language, along with a special rosary.

“A child who feels loved often is transformed. Those packing boxes here in the U.S. are blessed, too,” he said. “As they participate in the Lord’s mercy internationally, their faith grows and their view of the church is expanded.”

In addition to its relief efforts in other countries, Cross Catholic Outreach has a special focus on Haiti, especially now as the nation tries to recover from the devastation wrought by Hurricane Matthew. The organization has provided relief services to Haiti since 2002.

“The World Bank ranks Haiti as the poorest nation in our hemisphere. That’s a sad reality when you consider the country is so close to U.S. shores. Haiti could literally be described as a neighbor in need,” Cavnar said.

In a nation still recovering from the 2010 earthquake, he said, Hurricane Matthew “destroyed most of the homes and crops in a large area of the southern peninsula that happens to be one of the few fertile farming areas of the country.”

“We are expecting a long rehabilitation time due to this loss of food source and housing, but also an increase need for health care as water-borne diseases like cholera will likely rise,” he added.

“While aid is coming from around the world, we Catholics in the U.S. are deeply committed to Haiti and have a special place in our hearts for her people,” Cavnar said.