Josh Mounsey knows firsthand the challenges faced by those living in undeveloped countries.
The 21-year-old is from St. Vincent and The Grenadines, a small island nation in the Caribbean where many residents live in poverty. Now a freshman at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul in environmental studies and political science, Mounsey has not forgotten about those less fortunate than himself as he leads an effort to pack 5,000 boxes of goods for impoverished children throughout the world.
Mounsey began his studies at UST last spring after a long journey. Raised by a single mother, he focused on reaching his goal of coming to the U.S. for educational opportunities, working more than two years in aviation security at his country’s international airport while running a side business selling fruits and vegetables to hotels.
Now Mounsey is focused on his goal of bringing 5,000 Christmas boxes filled with school supplies, toys and essentials such as soap, toothpaste and toothbrushes to children in developing countries through Cross Catholic Outreach’s Box of Joy ministry.
“I was raised Catholic, to keep that close connection to God and to help others,” Mounsey said. “There were students in my school who didn’t have the school supplies and other resources to perform their tasks properly, so I know that for them, getting a Box of Joy Christmas gift is like a dream come true.”
Casey Gordon is program manager at UST’s Center for the Common Good, which connects students, faculty and staff at the university with community engagement opportunities. She first met Mounsey shortly after the protests and riots that took place in the Twin Cities following the May 25 death of George Floyd, an African American who died after being held down by the knee of a white Minneapolis police officer.
“He seemed incredibly passionate and determined to do something in his community to bring people together,” she said. “Josh seemed interested in starting something of his own, and I understood this desire to jump in head first. But we talked about looking around to find people who are already doing the work. … Joining others in solidarity can be more impactful than starting out on your own.”
Mounsey took Gordon’s advice and began researching Catholic nonprofit organizations. He came across Catholic Cross Outreach, a Florida-based global relief and development nonprofit founded in 2001, and its Box of Joy initiative.
Last year, through the efforts of Catholic parishes, schools and groups across the United States, Catholic Cross Outreach collected and delivered gift-filled Boxes of Joy to 75,797 children in Haiti, the Dominican Republic, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Grenada, the Bahamas and Guatemala.
Mounsey and five volunteers have distributed just over 1,000 empty Boxes of Joy, primarily in Roseville, where Mounsey lived before moving to UST’s campus this fall. Recipients are asked to fill the boxes and return them to St. Cecilia in St. Paul, Mounsey’s parish, by the end of September. The boxes will then be picked up and loaded onto a flight to Catholic Cross Outreach in Florida.
“I’m so impressed by Josh and everyone I’ve talked to in his group for taking this on,” said Erika Kvak, Catholic Cross Outreach development officer. “It’s wonderful knowing we have young adults who want to be a part of something bigger and take care of others. These are the young adults that are going to make a difference.”
Thach Nguyen, 23, a UST junior majoring in electrical engineering, is helping Mounsey with distributing the Boxes of Joy throughout the community.
“I met Josh at an international student orientation session,” Nguyen said. “We often discuss problems that exist in today’s world, and I helped him brainstorm ideas for his ‘togetherness initiatives,’ which led to the Box of Joy project.”
Mounsey, who hopes to start his own nonprofit someday, has set an ambitious goal of collecting 5,000 Boxes of Joy before November. “Minnesota has a population of over 5 million, so I don’t look at it as a goal that can’t be met,” he said.
Gordon concurs. “I’m really inspired by Josh’s initiative and determination,” she said. “I’m not surprised that he has given himself such an incredible goal, and I have no doubt that he’ll meet that goal.”