Food

"Blessing Boxes" Stocking Up on Hope and Help

Neighbors provide others emergency food, operating on a "leave what you can, take what you need" philosophy.


One in eight people in this country are food insecure. In other words, they don't know where their next meal is coming from.

That's 40 million people, 12 million of them children, going hungry every day.

You may not think hunger is a problem where you live. I didn't really know it was a big issue in my middle class neighborhood north of Pittsburgh. That is, until I began serving on the board of a non-profit, North Hills Cares , where our mission is to uncover needs in our community, like hunger, and figure out ways to meet those needs.

One of the solutions we came up with is something we call our Little Free Pantry. People in other places call them Blessing Boxes. These small boxes are stocked with non-perishable food items and toiletries that could help a needy neighbor get through a tough time. Here's a tour of ours (built and installed by my son JT, above right, and his friend Ryan) so you see what I mean:

Our board members, friends, volunteers and neighbors keep our pantry stocked. Scout troops and high school groups help us out by doing food drives as community service projects.

Volunteers in communities around the country have found other creative ways to keep their boxes stocked, and they've come up with some pretty innovative ways to "house" them too! Here are some examples:

COLUMBUS BLESSING BOX PROJECT

This central Ohio group has 26 boxes, each with its own caretaker who makes sure it's full. Gretchen Davis founded the Blessing Boxes Project in 2018 as a way to teach her kids about giving back.

Some boxes are small, some are large, some fancy and some simple. Youthbuild , a school for students learning construction trades built three of them. The Columbus Dispatch even gave the group their old newspaper dispensers. "The dispensers are small but they work," Gretchen told the Dispatch .

The Columbus Blessing Boxes are placed anywhere people need them and folks are willing to host them, like churches, schools, businesses, parks, community centers. "There's even one next to the mailboxes at a mobile home park. It's a small, free pantry that hopefully lessens the daily burden of family meal planning," Jeanne Whit, who maintains the mobile home park box, told the Dispatch .

"Helping people is what it's all about."

LOW COUNTRY BLESSING BOX PROJECT

Gretchen Davis got the idea for the Columbus project from her sister Katie Dahlheim who has been running a Blessing Box Project in Charleston, South Carolina since 2017. They have 80 boxes!

There's not room for me to show you pictures of all the different kinds of boxes and locations they have, but this video does a pretty good job.

In addition to volunteers, Low Country fills their boxes by recruiting community groups (like the Boy Scouts above) to do drives to collect non-perishable food and toiletries.

BLESSING BOX OF MIDDLE TENNESSEE

This group in the Nashville area has 15 Blessing Boxes and growing! It was founded by Sonya Dunkam, who once worked and lived as a single mom and knows what it's like to live paycheck to paycheck. "I know what it was like to wonder how I would provide for my family," she told the Contributor newspaper.

I love this box (above) outside a church because it's so simple. 2 store bought storage containers + a simple wooden base + a painted sign = instant Blessing box. I also love the part of the Tennessee group's tag line that says "No middle man." That's right." Just one neighbor helping another.

At Sparkt, that's what we're all about. If your community has a Free Pantry or a Blessing Box you'd like everyone to know about -- or if this inspired you to start one -- click here to sign up and write about it on Sparkt!

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