LES CAYES, Haiti (CNS) — Teenager Syndia Joseph said she had never received a gift in her life.
Nor had most of the children in remote Camp Perrin. So when Cross Catholic Outreach’s Box of Joy program visited to deliver thousands of gift boxes provided by people across the United States, many children literally didn’t know what to do.
(See a related video.)
All seemed appreciative, but many also appeared apprehensive to dive into their presents.
“It’s really a shock,” said Box of Joy director Steve Bostian. “Many of the things they receive, they don’t know what they are. The poverty is so extreme here that I think they are in shock.”
People in 46 U.S. states filled shoebox-sized containers with small toys, hygiene items or treats last fall and those “Boxes of Joy” have been distributed in recent weeks to children in poverty in Guatemala, Dominican Republic and Haiti by Cross Catholic Outreach, a relief and development agency based in Boca Raton, Florida.
Children at the Project Hope South Catholic school and orphanage in Les Cayes, along with those in Camp Perrin and Torbeck, received their gifts March 22-23.
It’s the third year for Box of Joy, and Bostian said almost 32,000 children will benefit from the program during this campaign, including about 10,000 in Haiti, considered the poorest country in the Americas by World Bank.
Syndia’s gift box included a ball, toothbrush, ruler and socks.
“(I) like everything,” 14-year-old Syndia said through an interpreter.
By Cross Catholic Outreach President Jim Cavnar’s estimation, “99 percent” of the Haitian children the Box of Joy program impacted had never received a Christmas gift.
“I think of my own kids and how excited they get at Christmas every year and I think for these kids, it’s the first time. Almost all of them have never gotten a gift before and you can look around and see they almost don’t know what to do,” Cavnar said in an interview with a visiting reporter from The Catholic Week, newspaper of the Archdiocese of Mobile.
And once children understood the purpose of the gift, opened their boxes and took items out, many meticulously repacked their boxes.
“When we first started to distribute to Haiti, I could not understand why the kids weren’t taking everything out and playing with it,” Cavnar explained. “Then my Haitian staff explained they know this is something for their whole family and they will first go to their family and share it.”
In Camp Perrin, 14-year-old Figgins Fedna received his Box of Joy at his home. Along with pens, sandals, and toiletries, his box included a package of lollipops.
Figgins immediately shared his lollipops with siblings and neighboring children.
“You have to admire kids who have that perspective,” Cavnar said.
Some of the more popular items were unsurprising. Hach Seldor, a 7-year-old who attends the Project Hope school, said a small ball that would fit in someone’s palm was his favorite gift.
“(I like) to play with my friends and (I like) to play soccer,” he said through an interpreter.
But Cavnar was struck at the popularity of hygiene items.
“One kindergarten kid, his eyes lit up when he saw the toothbrush. He kind of grabbed it and held it up,” Cavnar said. “That tells you something about the poverty of children and what matters.”
Bostian also explained a simple coloring booklet called “The Story of Jesus” that’s added to each box is popular.
“When people this poor are given a card, a letter or a special certificate at school, it means so much to them. They always pin it up on the wall of their house. And those things will stay up there for years. For Americans, we might get a greeting card, read it, it may lay around the house a few days and then it’s in the circular file,” he said.
Although Box of Joy began in 2014, Cross Catholic Outreach was founded in 2001, supports 267 programs in 36 countries and given more than $1 billion toward poverty relief.
It works with mission partners such as Project Hope South to better communities and Box of Joy is one of Cross Catholic’s programs to assist the poor. The project was added to the Box of Joy campaign after Hurricane Matthew crippled Les Cayes, about 120 miles west of the capital, Port-au-Prince, in October.
“It builds on what we’ve been doing for a decade. We are here with long-term relationships with education, vocational training, nutrition and medicine,” Cavnar said. “It’s a special delight to have a way for families in the U.S. to engage too. It’s a way for parents to educate their children about the needs of the poor, to do something tangible. Keep in mind, underneath it, there’s a much deeper and broader commitment.”
Herbst is editor of The Catholic Week, newspaper of the Archdiocese of Mobile.
Join the CatholicPhilly.com family
CatholicPhilly.com works to strengthen the connections between people, families and communities every day by delivering the news people need to know about the Catholic Church, especially in the Philadelphia region, and the world in which we live.
By your donation in any amount, you and hundreds of other people become part of our mission to inform, form in the Catholic faith and inspire the thousands of readers who visit every month.
Here is how you can help:
- A $100 gift allows us to present award-winning photos of Catholic life in our neighborhoods.
- A $50 gift enables us to cover a news event in a local parish, school or Catholic institution.
- A $20 gift lets us obtain solid faith formation resources that can deepen your spirituality and knowledge of the faith.
- A small, automated monthly donation means you can support us continually and easily.
Won't you consider making a gift today?
Please join in the church's vital mission of communications by offering a gift in whatever amount that you can ― a single gift of $40, $50, $100, or more, or a monthly donation. Your gift will strengthen the fabric of our entire Catholic community and sustain CatholicPhilly.com as your trusted news source. Thank you in advance!
Make your donation by credit card here:
Or make your donation by check:
222 N. 17th Street
Philadelphia, PA 19103