Published October 31, 2019


NORTH READING — Joy, a hallmark of the Christmas season, can be fleeting for children living in extreme poverty in developing countries.

But last Wednesday, local third-graders spent a few hours of their time ensuring poor children their age who live in developing countries such as Guatemala, the Dominican Republic, Haiti, El Salvador and Nicaragua will have a more joyful Christmas this year.

THIRD-GRADERS (from left) Jacob Deutrino, Oliver Maynes, Anthony DiBella and Luke Fosco display their completed Boxes of Joy at St. Theresa’s. (Michael Geoffrion Scannell Photo)

The students worked together to assemble 150 “Boxes of Joy” as Christmas gifts. The service project was part of their religious education, known as Faith Formation. The grade three students at Saint Theresa’s had decided to take on the service project this October, culminating in the packing of these parcels to be shipped halfway around the world by Christmas. They assembled the boxes together with family members while older students helped organize the many tables of donations set up in the hall.

In church, donations were solicited and accepted through Sunday, October 20 destined for the boxes, which are 11 inches long by 6 inches wide and 4 inches high and similar in size and construction to a doughnut box. Acceptable donations were divided into categories such as toys, school supplies, apparel and hygiene items. Given the religious nature of the gift-giving, rosaries and crosses as well as prayer books written in Spanish were also included.

SARAH PASTORE picked out a special doll to include in her Box of Joy, which she put together with help from her mom, Nancy. (Michael Geoffrion Scannell Photo)

With each empty box the youngsters were given an index card with the gender and age range of the child who would be receiving their gift. They were instructed by Brenda Terranova, Director of Faith Foundation at Saint Theresa, to think about that boy or girl and begin by picking out something he or she would really like. It was clear the third graders were taking this responsibility very seriously.

Some of the acceptable toy items were small plush animals, balls, cars and trucks, puzzles, coloring books, jump ropes, dolls and Slinkys. Among the popular school supplies were pens, crayons, pencil sharpeners, glue sticks, safety scissors and notepads. Certain items are not allowed in the packages such as food and beverages, liquids and gels, military, police toys or weapons, and chocolate.

Once filled, the 150 boxes (along with $9 each to cover shipping costs) were to be shipped to Florida, to an organization called Cross Catholic Outreach that facilitates their ultimate delivery to a destination in Central and South America.

COMMUNITY SERVICE VOLUNTEERS (front row, from left): Colin Colbert, Ruari Maynes, Rachel Vardinski and Courtney Thomas; (back row, from left): Michael Dee, Sal Schille and Patrick Fazzolari assisted the third-grade Faith Formation students with their Box of Joy project. (Michael Geoffrion Scannell Photo)

“The boxes will be delivered to the distribution center in Danvers the week of November 2 to 10, and then they will be sent to the project headquarters in South Florida for final checking and labeling before being sent to their final destination before Christmas,” Terranova said.

They received lots of donations. “We ran out of hard candy and ‘useful items’ – clothing, flip flops, hats, etc.,” Terranova said, but she added, “We had toys and school supplies left over. We are considering a project with a local shelter, such as Lazarus House in Lawrence or Emmaus in Haverhill. The leftovers will definitely be put to good use!”

When asked what she hopes the kids took away from this experience, Terranova responded, “I hope that the third graders understand that our love for Jesus compels us to serve other people. I also hope that they became aware, if they weren’t already, that there are children like them in the world that do not have a lot of material things. I hope they felt the satisfaction of serving the poor, and learned that even young people like themselves can serve others in important ways.”

Terranova believes the Box of Joy project was a successful event for several reasons.

“First, our parishioners were very generous in donating items and postage money that enabled us to fill and ship all 150 boxes. Second, our third-grade students were able to speak at our Masses and collect donations at the doors of the church, so they gained valuable public speaking experience,” she said.

“Third, the third-graders and their parents were able to come together as a community to perform corporal and spiritual works of mercy for poor children living in other countries. Fourth, the success of this project is inspiring the fourth- and fifth-grade families to think about a service project for their students.”