Children at a school in Mathebonite, Haiti, hold up a “Box of Joy” they each received for Christmas in this undated photo. The annual program of Florida-based Cross Catholic Outreach “is an opportunity to consciously take time out of the busy holiday season to focus on serving others and sharing the joy of Jesus’ birth,” said Jim Cavnar, the agency’s president. (CNS photo/Benjmain Rusnak courtesy Cross Catholic Outreach)

BOCA RATON, Fla. (CNS) — The annual Box of Joy program “is an opportunity to consciously take time out of the busy holiday season to focus on serving others and sharing the joy of Jesus’ birth,” said the head of the Florida-based organization that sponsors it.

Box of Joy is a project of Cross Catholic Outreach, a relief and development agency headed by Jim Cavnar, president.

It involves Catholic parishes, schools and groups nationwide who want to help children in need in Haiti, Dominican Republic, Nicaragua, El Salvador and Guatemala. Small gifts in shoeboxes are sent to these children, “who would otherwise receive nothing during Christmas,” Cavnar said.

Parishes, schools and other groups organize volunteers to pack boxes with small gifts such as toys and school supplies. They add essentials, like soap, toothpaste and toothbrushes, as well as a few treats like hard candy and coloring books. Participants include $9 in each box to cover shipment from the local drop-off center to the child.

Cross Catholic Outreach has designated Nov. 2-10 as Box of Joy packing week. Groups are asked to register by Oct. 15 at https://crosscatholic.org/boxofjoy to receive a project leader kit.

This year, Abby Johnson, founder and director of And Then There Were None, is a Box of Joy ambassador. She is the former Planned Parenthood abortion clinic director who left her job to become pro-life. Her memoir, “Unplanned,” was made into a feature film and released in theaters this past March.

“My family has participated in Box of Joy for several years, and my kids love shopping for and filling those shoeboxes with little gifts for children who live without all of the conveniences that we enjoy as Americans,” Johnson said.

“I’m thrilled to be able to share our family’s experience with Box of Joy, and I encourage parishes and school groups to join the ministry and purposefully set aside time to counter the secular Christmas culture,” she added.

Last year, 620 Catholic parishes, schools and groups across 47 states participated. Utilizing 149 drop-off centers, Cross Catholic Outreach collected and delivered gift-filled Boxes of Joy to 58,030 children. A map of drop-off centers is available here.

Any group that misses the drop-off during the Box of Joy week Nov. 2-10 can ship their gifts to: Cross Catholic Outreach-Box of Joy Screening Center, c/o TLA Logistics Corp., 2100 NW 129th Ave., Suite 104, Miami FL 33182.

“By sending Boxes of Joy — each box includes a rosary and ‘The Story of Jesus,’ in the recipient’s native language — groups can demonstrate Christ’s compassion to poor children in developing countries,” a news release said.

Cross Catholic’s goal is to increase the number of children served to 85,000 by 2020 — which will require a rise in group and parish participation and the number of drop-off centers for boxes, it added.

“By sending Boxes of Joy — each box includes a rosary and ‘The Story of Jesus,’ in the recipient’s native language — groups can demonstrate Christ’s compassion to poor children in developing countries,” a news release said.

Since it was founded in 2001, Cross Catholic has given more than $1 billion in aid to help “the poorest of the poor” in 36 developing countries in Africa, Asia, Latin America, the Caribbean and other parts of the world.