Blessing Boxes benefit communities
Clay Brown, a member of Whigham UMC, stands outside the church next to the Little Free Pantry he built and installed as his Boy Scout Eagle Scout project.
By Kara Witherow, Editor
Broxton United Methodist Church may be a small church in a small town, but the congregation’s generosity knows no bounds.
Broxton UMC is just one of a handful of South Georgia United Methodist Churches who have embraced a grassroots movement to address food insecurity by installing Blessing Boxes, tiny pantries filled with donated food, toiletries and hygiene items, and other necessities.
Jerry Hudson first got the idea for Broxton UMC’s Blessing Box after seeing a Little Free Library in a state park. He thought it was a good idea and something a church could try, but with food instead of books.
24.5 percent of Coffee County’s population live below the poverty line, and hunger is a problem statewide, with 1,561,360 people struggling just in Georgia, according to Feeding America.
“It’s a simple way to solve a temporary need,” Hudson says of the box, which is filled with non-perishable food, canned goods, a few books, Upper Room devotionals, New Testament Bibles, a few small toys and baby clothes, paper towels, toilet paper, and small toiletries.
“There’s a hunger problem state wide, but I think what sells a lot of people on it is that it cuts through a lot of the red tape on both ends,” Hudson said of the Blessing Box. “It takes some of the embarrassment out of asking for food; it’s not easy asking for help sometimes.”
People can drive or walk up to the Blessing Box, Hudson says, and take whatever they need, whether it’s one can of food, a few items, or everything in the box.
“This gets rid of all of the stigma, any judgment,” he said. “We have an unfortunate tendency to demonize a lot of folks and make assumptions. With this it’s just there and available. If they want one can of corn, that’s great. If they need everything in the box, that’s okay, too.”
Nearly a year and a half ago the Bricklayers Men’s Group of Bethel Brick United Methodist Church in Sylvania built and dedicated their Blessing Box. The box has been a blessing to the congregation and the community, said Rev. Kitty Newton, pastor of Bethel Brick UMC, and is just one more way for the congregation to love and support those who live and work nearby.
“It’s put out there to help people, and that’s what we’re about – spreading the Word through our actions,” she said. “In other words, putting feet to the Word; putting our feet and our hands to work, not just talking about loving one another and helping one another, but actually doing it.”
Arco United Methodist Church’s Blessing Box is usually pretty bare each Sunday when members check it, says Rev. Wesley Deverger, and that tells the congregation that it’s being used regularly.
The box, which is filled with non-perishable foods like canned goods and rice plus toothpaste, toothbrushes, and bug spray, stands next to the church social hall’s driveway so people can pull right up and get what they need.
Rev. Deverger and members of the Brunswick congregation have built relationships with neighborhood residents and have asked their needs to get a feel for what should be included in the church’s Blessing Box. Members of the local Gideons International association keep the box stocked with New Testament Bibles.
The box is simple to build and easy to maintain, Rev. Deverger said, and it is a way for the Arco UMC congregation to help their neighbors.
“We want to let the community know that there’s a church and a group of people who care and want to make a difference,” he said. “In our fast-paced world we seem to lose touch with each other and local needs, but this gives us a chance to stay in touch.”
In Whigham, there are no full-time feeding programs during the summer or over the weekends, says Clay Brown, a member of Whigham UMC, so he decided that his Eagle Scout project would help address that need.
The 18-year-old Cairo High School graduate and his dad drew up plans for their Little Free Pantry and Brown built it. He installed the two-foot-by-three-foot box on March 21 and the response has been overwhelmingly positive, Brown said. The pantry is being used frequently, more than he expected.
The experience was rewarding for Brown, and he says that it doesn’t take a grand act to help your community.
“You don’t have to do something huge …. (to help). You can just go around to houses giving canned goods to people. It’s as simple as that.”
The concept behind the Blessing Box is simple, said Rev. Gary Griffin, pastor of Broxton UMC.
“Take what you need, add what you can. Above all, be blessed.”