SKOWHEGAN — Three years ago, Elyse Wilson of Christ the King Parish read about a program that helped provide shoe boxes full of gifts to mission children in South America who had never received Christmas presents before.

“I was very inspired by the stories, and I thought it would be a great way for kids in our area to get involved with missions,” Wilson said, according to a news release Dave Guthro, communications director, Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland. “Children are naturally generous, and they love to give gifts, especially at Christmas time.”

Weeks later, Box of Joy in Maine was born.

To participate, individuals and families fill a shoe box or boxes with gifts and mark the box for a boy or a girl and the approximate age. Then, they simply drop off the box at Notre Dame de Lourdes Church, at 273 Water St., in Skowhegan, between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. Friday, Nov. 8, or between noon and 4 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 9. Interested parties also can make an appointment to drop off boxes by calling Wilson at 938-3030.

“If people contact me in advance, I will supply the box and labels for them,” said Wilson, according to the release. “A check for $9 made out to Cross Catholic Outreach should be included in the box to help cover shipping expenses.”

Because of the Cross Catholic Outreach, all the boxes will be delivered to children in need living in Haiti, the Dominican Republic, Nicaragua and Guatemala to spread joy and mercy at Christmas time.

A list of recommended gifts as well as a list of what cannot be sent appear online at crosscatholic.org, which oversees nearly 300 service projects in 36 countries worldwide. In general, toys, hygiene items and school supplies are acceptable. Items should be new or like new, and should not include liquids, food, or anything related to violence.

“Our parish is very supportive and Cross Catholic Outreach is also very supportive and encouraging. They provide all the supplies needed and send a truck to pick up the boxes,” Wilson said, according to the release.

Word of the success of the program in Skowhegan spread to the Parish of the Ascension of the Lord (St. Raphael Church, in Kittery; Our Lady of the Angels Church, in South Berwick; St. Christopher Church, in York; and Star of the Sea Church, on York Beach).

“Our religious education program will be packing boxes of joy this year,” said Veronica Richards, faith formation director at the Parish of the Ascension of the Lord, according to the release. “Our parish is hoping to bless 100 kids.”

Interested parties are encouraged to pick up a Box of Joy and instructions at any of the parish churches and return them during the week of November 2-10.

“Every year, thousands of children experience a Christmas without hope,” said Richards. “This year can be different for many.”

For more information about the program at the Parish of the Ascension of the Lord, call 475-0192 or email [email protected].

Those interested in starting a program at their parish can call 938-3030 or email [email protected].

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