Stacked care packages are at the forefront of this image. Shown behind the boxes is a gymnasium full of student volunteers working on crafts.
December 17, 2021

Unboxing Joy

Something magical happened on November 9 in the small town of Colby, Wisconsin. Even though the result wasn’t unexpected, the impact was still profound.  

Deanna Roth has taught at St. Mary Catholic School in Colby, Wisconsin, for more than two decades. As the third and fourth grade teacher, she partners with Jenni Ploeckelman, the second grade teacher, to arrange service projects for the school. “That’s one of our jobs we like to take on,” Deanna said.

Yes, you read that correctly: Deanna enjoys taking on these projects. If you’d met the students at St. Mary School — or even stepped into the building — you’d soon see why. Though small, this tight-knit group of children and young adults jumps at the chance to participate in service of any kind, especially when they can see the impact it has on their community. Creating uplifting greeting cards for local elderly residents and others in the community is practically part of the lesson plan. “The older kids always step up to the challenge of helping the younger kids, so it’s nice to see,” Deanna said. “The younger ones enjoy it, too.”

Two girls showing the greeting cards they crafted for the care boxes.

Service is woven into the education at St. Mary Catholic School, so it’s no surprise staff loved the idea of Feeding God’s Children (an idea Deanna believes she learned about in an earlier edition of Catholic Forester magazine) and partnering with local court St. Kilian 1239.

The Box of Joy Project — the event Deanna and Jenni organized as their Feeding God’s Children event in November — consists of students packing boxes with necessities such as hygiene items and gifts, such as a rosary, or toys. With nearly 90 students packing boxes and at least 10 more staff participating, too, they would need a lot of donations. “We asked families, students, parishioners, students, and community members,” Deanna said. “We put announcements in the bulletin, the newsletter, [and] our Facebook page, asking for donations and had a few different drop-off locations. People were just really generous.”

The Box of Joy Project is an event St. Mary’s did two years ago, and Deanna knew that experience would be an advantage but could also present some challenges. She explained, “You always have that question when you’re working with stuff: if we do it multiple times, will we lose some of the excitement and energy?” Based on the energy level, number of boxes packed, number of cards made, and the smiles all around, it’s safe to say that this repeat event was just as impactful and fun as the first. She added, laughing, “They all seem pretty boisterous!”

It’s no secret that Feeding God’s Children events are fun, but what may be lesser known is the relationships the initiative creates and supports. “Every year now, I’d like to work with [COF],” Deanna said about future events. As far as determining how to organize a Feeding God’s Children event, a major factor for Deanna is an event that will bring the whole school together. “It’s nice … because they all get to wear their [Feeding God’s Children] T-shirts. We don’t have a uniform here, so it’s fun for them to come to school one day at least when we all match,” she said, donning a Feeding God’s Children T-shirt herself.

The positive reaction from students stands out to Deanna. “[It’s] a really good thing because these kinds of days and these kinds of events are what they’re going to remember about being a student at St. Mary’s,” she said. “Of course, everything we do is important and valuable, but I think the service projects are definitely a big takeaway.”

Two boys show items in the boxes they are packing, such as socks, crafts, and stuffed animals.

Nearly 100 students and staff participated in this effort. During the almost two-hour event, 84 students packed 84 boxes. Deanna said, “We definitely have enough donations to finish packing to 100 [boxes] and probably beyond.” Surplus items will be loosely packed up and sent along with the boxes. They may be used to “fill in” other boxes, but they will certainly bring joy to whomever receives them.

Enthusiastic students packed their boxes with care during St. Mary Catholic School’s Box of Joy Project.

Article and video by Katlyn Pischel