Blessing Box is open 24/7 for the hungry

Mary Marquez and Rev. Marie Mitchell with a donation boxGenerosity overflows this Thanksgiving for The Woods’ twist on Little Free Libraries

At Thanksgiving, it’s time to count blessings, and The Woods UMC in Grand Prairie has plenty to add up — and give out.

The church’s closets, storage spaces and shelves are filling up as church members and Grand Prairie residents drop off food and hygiene items for the Blessing Box.

The Blessing Box is a take on the Little Free Libraries, the sidewalk book bins that have popped up in neighborhoods all over the world. Instead of a place to pass along or take books — no money involved — The Woods’ Blessing Box contains items aimed at those in need.

Rev. Marie Mitchell, pastor of The Woods, had read about a Blessing Box in the newspaper and thought about her own impoverished childhood growing up in the projects in Wichita Falls. Then Melody Marquez, The Woods’ office manager, told Rev. Mitchell last spring about what a Blessing Box meant to the family of a seriously ill boy in Waxahachie.

Blessing box signAfter some research and going through the church approval process, the project was on. Member Jim Heard designed and constructed what amounts to a large kitchen cupboard on a stand outside the church.

The church installed the Blessing Box early this month on the edge of the parking lot for the privacy of those stopping for items. It was built to withstand rain, and lighting was added after staffers noticed its spot was a little too dark after nightfall. And night is when most of those taking items come “because of shame and embarrassment,” Rev. Mitchell said.

Although the church, in the far southwestern corner of the North Texas Conference, has big houses and nice apartments surrounding it, The Woods is not far from a neighborhood where residents are struggling.

For the poor in Grand Prairie, the logistics of obtaining food can be difficult. The Grand Prairie Food and Clothing Co-op allows families to stock up only once a month, and even then they may get just a week’s worth of food, Marquez said. But if the food runs out or families can’t get to the co-op during its operating hours, the Blessing Box stands ready 24 hours a day.

What if opportunists take advantage of donations? Rev. Mitchell said that “a missional church can’t worry about that.”

The Blessing Box’s shelves are organized into baby items; proteins including tuna, Spam and peanut butter; toiletries; and a variety of canned goods and packaged foods. Bread is there for the taking and swapped out for fresh loaves if it lingers too long. There are some fun items, such as lollipops for the kids and even Toblerone bars. Donations for the box’s first Thanksgiving include pumpkin pie filling and cranberry sauce.

Inside the church, donations are piling up for the Blessing Box. Blankets and towels crowd one corner, toiletries and paper goods fill a tabletop, and a bookshelf is lined with packages of diapers and food items ready to stock the Blessing Box.

After three weeks, word about the Blessing Box is getting out to those in need, and volunteers are replenishing more supplies. They’re heartened when they see a beneficiary stopping by, including a morning visitor who rode up on a skateboard, got a few items and wheeled away.

Published: Monday, November 20, 2017