In my inaugural post for 2018, I touched on how acts of kindness toward others can not only improve our emotional health but also our physical health, and can actually help us achieve our goals. As inspiration for those of us that want to give to our communities, as well as to provide a tangible acknowledgement that there is good in the world, every Friday I will posting stories about ordinary people doing things that provide extraordinary benefit to their communities.
The Little Free Library inspires a little free pantryRoman Espinoza of Watertown, New York, is a 46-year-old Army veteran who was inspired by an organization called Little Free Library. The Little Free Library was started in 2009 by Todd Bol in Hudson, Wisconsin. Bol designed a wooden container to resemble a miniature one-room schoolhouse, placed it on his front lawn, and filled it with books. The idea was that anyone passing by could borrow a book or leave one for someone else to read. By 2016, over 50,000 Little Free Libraries had sprung up around the world.
Espinoza decided to do something similar by constructing a food pantry on his front lawn. He calls it a “blessing box,” and it’s available to anyone who wants to take something or make a donation. “There’s not a lock on it,” Espinoza told CNN, “It’s open 24 hours a day, seven days a week.”
The inspiration for Espinoza’s “blessing box” came when he was taking a class at a local community college and learned that the school had a food pantry on campus for needy students. Espinoza says he initially stocked the “blessing box” himself, but since then, members of the community have been making most of the donations. In addition to food, the box is stocked with toiletries and first aid items. Espinoza says he doesn’t really know who takes the items from the box, noting that “sometimes people feel like they are embarrassed to use the box in the middle of the day.”
Kindness is contagiousOther people in the community began constructing their own blessing boxes, and there are now 20 small food pantries around Watertown. The local Home Depot has donated wood to construct the boxes, Barilla has donated boxes of pasta, a local contractor donated roofing supplies, and a credit union donated utensil packets.
Espinoza hopes to continue expanding the number boxes in his community. Meanwhile, similar efforts are underway across the country. In Menomonie, Wisconsin, a “blessings box” sits on the lawn of the Oak Ridge Lutheran Bretheren Church, stocked with food and other necessities such as baby wipes.
In Wichita, Kansas, Maggie Ballard has placed her own version of a “blessing box” on her front lawn. As word spread about the box, she too started receiving donations from her community. Such boxes can also be found on the front lawns of homes and churches in Oklahoma, Indiana, Kentucky, Florida, and Minnesota. Like Espinoza, Ballard says most of the people who use her pantry come after dark. But occasionally she notices someone stopping by. “On Christmas Eve,” Ballard told NPR, “she watched as a family of three opened her box to find a bag of bagels and started eating them right there.”
If you build it, they will come
It’s an idea that’s catching on. You never know if your neighbors are going hungry or are in need of basic items like toothpaste and shampoo. It may not be the people who live in your neighborhood who need help, but once word spreads that there is a place those in need can go to get something to eat, they will find you. So will your generous neighbors.