Local parishioners, youth groups, pack joy for children in Central America

  • Written by Nathan Whalen
  • Published in Local
Sacred Heart Parish in Lacey packed Boxes of Joy for children living in poverty in Haiti, the Dominican Republic, Guatemala, El Salvador and Nicaragua. Photo: Linda Cooper Sacred Heart Parish in Lacey packed Boxes of Joy for children living in poverty in Haiti, the Dominican Republic, Guatemala, El Salvador and Nicaragua. Photo: Linda Cooper

LACEY – Volunteers at parishes in Lacey, Seattle and Mountlake Terrace recently gathered enough small gifts, school supplies and hygiene items to fill 165 shoeboxes for disadvantaged children in Central America and the Caribbean.

The “Box of Joy” program “helps support the children and teach about Christmas,” said Linda Cooper, pastoral assistant for children’s faith formation at Sacred Heart Parish in Lacey.

“It has been especially important this year as we talk about migration and the conditions of many of these areas in Central America,” Cooper said in an email. “The children and families in faith formation love praying over the boxes so they are prepared for their journey.”

At Sacred Heart, 46 boxes were packed with a small toy, hard candy, a stuffed animal, hygiene items and school supplies, Cooper said. The project, which also involved the parish’s Cub Scout Pack 007, was a learning opportunity for the children, according to Father Tim Ilgen, Sacred Heart’s pastor.

“There’s a lot of children around the world who don’t have anything,” Father Ilgen said. “It opens their eyes that there are difficulties around the world.”

Besides making boxes, Sacred Heart was the local drop-off point for boxes that other groups assembled and donated to the program, a ministry of Cross Catholic Outreach. The Florida-based nonprofit provides food, shelter, medical care, water, education and orphan care “to the poorest of the poor in Dioceses around the world in the name of Christ,” according to its website.

Box of JoyChildren participating in the Thursday evening faith formation group at Sacred Heart Parish in Lacey helped assemble Boxes of Joy in November so the gifts could arrive by Christmas for children in Haiti, the Dominican Republic, Guatemala, El Salvador and Nicaragua. Photo: Linda Cooper

In its fifth year of the program, the organization aims to deliver boxes to 70,000 children living in poverty in Haiti, the Dominican Republic, Guatemala, El Salvador and Nicaragua.

“Serving Jesus through helping these children experience the joy of opening up presents is a beautiful way to show the love of Christ, and to see that love reflected in their happy faces,” said Jim Cavnar, president of Cross Catholic Outreach.

In addition to Sacred Heart, local groups donating boxes included the American Heritage Girls troops at St. Pius the X Parish in Mountlake Terrace and Blessed Sacrament Parish in Seattle, and a family in Marysville, Cooper said.

After the boxes were collected at Sacred Heart, they were sent to Cross Catholic Outreach’s screening center in Florida. Gifts are screened and prepared for shipment from November 24 to December 16, then are sent to children in need. Donors include $9 for each box — $7 to help defray the shipping cost to the child and $2 to support ministries to children in the countries served, according to the website.

This is the second year Sacred Heart has participated in the project, which Cooper said she learned about by reading an article posted on NWCatholic.org.

“The wonderful thing about the Box of Joy program is that every family can participate,” Cooper wrote.

And, Father Ilgen said, “it hopefully moves their hearts to want to help children.”