Millions of books are shared through the Little Free Library boxes that seem to be popping up in cities and towns across the country. If you are not familiar with them, they are wooden boxes on posts, much like an oversized mailbox, that act as a neighborhood book exchange where everyone is invited to take or leave a book. The main reason these were started was to give greater access to books to those who did not have any.
The First Congregational Church, UCC, of Fairhaven, Massachusetts, took that concept and turned it into a little free food pantry to give access to food to those who may be going without.
Donna Perry, one of the members of the church’s Missions committee, read about the program online, and after the committee approved the idea, she and her husband built the box. The Blessing Box, as it is called, sits outside the church and is available 24/7.
“For more than thirty years, we have had a food pantry that is totally stocked by our generous congregation,” said Perry. “It is not an advertised pantry, but people in need seem to find us.”
“Our regular food pantry is only open during office hours (MTW from 9-1) and is meant really for emergencies, to supplement what folks might get regularly at other places,” explained The Rev. Bette McClure, pastor of the church. “The Blessing Box allows us to have food available when we are not here, and is also a way that folks can donate food when we are closed.”
The church tries to stock the box with 20-25 various nutritious items. During winter, they are careful to limit items that will not be adversely affected by freezing weather. Some of the pantry items include tuna in a pouch, cereal/oatmeal, packages of mac and cheese, rice, pasta, and snacks. To help those who may be living on the street, they include items like fruit cups, peanut butter, and crackers – items that don't require cooking or preparation. They even try to include some health aids like soap, toothpaste, and lotions.
The box has been up only a couple of months and based on how often they refill it, the pastor believes about 15 or so people use it weekly.
“I think it gets used because it is so visible,” explained McClure.
They are in the center of town, right across from town hall and the library. Also, the church hosts many groups that meet in the facility on Monday night – like AA, Alanon, Alateen, and the Scouts – and on Tuesday morning, they find that the pantry has less stock. Also, another church uses the building and their folks come in and out of the building often so they can also make use of it.
“The Blessing Box is just that, a Blessing for our needy and homeless,” wrote church members Jim and Ann Cochran in an email. “We have had a great deal of activity in the Little Food pantry, both give and take, from our community. What a great idea it was.”
“The anonymity of it is helpful because for some folks coming into the pantry can feel demeaning,” McClure said. “While the blessing box is very visible during the day, someone could easily come after dark and maintain anonymity.”
At this time, more people are taking than giving, though there certainly have been donations left in in the box. McClure predicts that once it gets more known around town, the donations will increase. In addition, some local businesses, one of the nursing homes, parishioners, and random folks continue to stop by the church when it is open and donate food.
“Throughout the Bible we are told about helping others,” said McClure. “In the Hebrew Scriptures reaching out to the stranger, feeding the hungry, caring for the poor is a clear mandate. Certainly Jesus teaches us to feed the hungry and this is a small but important way that we can do that. In a wealthy country like ours, no one should go hungry and if we do not do whatever we can to help keep people fed I think that we fail as Christians.”
“By blessing others, we become blessed ourselves,” said Perry.
You can reach Rev. Bette McClure at the church office at 508-993-3368 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Visit their Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/firstcongfairhaven/.