Every morning at St. Dominic High School in St. Charles, students pray that God will give them hands to do His work.
It’s fitting then that freshman Lauren Morris picked the Box of Joy project for her American Heritage Girls troop at Immaculate Conception Parish in Dardenne Prairie, where she is project leader. Her troop provides hundreds of hours of service each year seeking to provide God’s hope and love to others, and has received the President’s Volunteer Service Award through American Heritage Girls. During the pandemic, service opportunities are limited, but the hands-on yet non-contact aspect of Box of Joy was a good fit.
Box of Joy is an annual Christmas gift ministry organized by Catholic schools, parishes and groups across the United States and facilitated by Cross Catholic Outreach. Participating groups gather toys and other gifts that are distributed to children in extreme poverty with the intention of sharing the joy of Christmas and planting seeds of hope. In 2019, Box of Joy participants helped 75,797 children in seven countries.
Lauren’s first step was to create flyers and write email messages to be forwarded to troop members. Items are dropped off on Lauren’s porch and she and her mom, Dayna Morris, troop charter representative, will bring them the week of Nov. 7 to a collection site at St. Cecilia Parish in Glen Carbon, Illinois. So far this year, 10 parishes, schools and groups in St. Louis are participating in the Box of Joy ministry, accounting for 1,050 Boxes of Joy.
Lauren and her sister Sophia, age 9, who also is in the troop, packed items such as a small sewing kit, toothbrushes and toothpaste, T-shirts, ponchos, soaps, a necklace and stuffed animal.
Lauren said that traveling with her family, she’s seen others in different living conditions and “even though we feel we’re in a difficult time right now, God is always calling us to share our blessings, and we have so much to give.”
She cited a Gospel phrase, “We love because He first loved us” (1 John 4:19) and asked, “How can these kids love God who they cannot see, if we don’t show His love to them that they can see, because God’s love is extravagant.”
Besides the service opportunities, Lauren enjoys American Heritage Girls because it stresses reverence and integrity and “is a good way to strengthen our faith together,” she said. Lauren enjoys being part of her parish and attending St. Dominic High School because of its service opportunities and welcoming atmosphere.
Last school year the troop at Immaculate Conception had about 50 girls. Registration is still under way this year. American Heritage Girls is for girls ages 5-18. Since the troop at Immaculate Conception is fairly new, the high school freshmen are the oldest members.
Dayna Morris called American Heritage Girls “the biggest blessing. They can work on things together or individually. They can take something they love like aviation and run with it. They encourage them to not only do service but as they get older they start to lead service projects and come up with their own ideas to use whatever talents God gave them. I love seeing that and all the girls’ personalities come out with all the different things they choose to bring to the community.”
>> Boxes of Joy
Catholic parishes, schools and groups nationwide organize Boxes of Joy by packing the boxes with small gifts such as toys and school supplies, and adding essentials like soap, toothpaste and toothbrushes, as well as a few treats such as hard candy and coloring books. Participants include $9 in each box to cover shipment from the local drop-off center to the child.
Last year, the items were distributed to children in Haiti, Guatemala, Dominican Republic, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Grenada and the Bahamas. To learn more, visit CrossCatholic.org/BoxofJoy.
>> American Heritage Girls
American Heritage Girls is a Christ-centered character and leadership development program for girls 5 to 18 years of age. AHG is dedicated to building women of integrity through service to God, family, community and country. Founded in 1995 in Cincinnati, American Heritage Girls has grown to more than 52,000 members across 15 countries and 50 states. Members participate in badge programs, service projects, leadership opportunities and outdoor experiences, all with an emphasis on Christian values and family involvement.
For information, visit americanheritagegirls.org.