- Associated Press - Friday, February 10, 2017

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) - When Donna Rae Pearson discovered the Blessing Boxes concept, she thought her central Topeka neighborhood, which lost a major grocery store last year, could benefit.

The small structures - similar in appearance to Little Free Libraries - house free nonperishable food and other items such as toiletries, laundry detergent and socks.

“It looked like a really good idea,” Pearson said. “I live up the street from where the Dillons used to be, and to have it taken from the community was kind of devastating. I thought this is a nice, simple way of helping my community.”

The Dillons at 1400 S.W. Huntoon St. closed in mid-February 2016.

The idea behind Blessing Boxes is “take a blessing, be a blessing when you can,” Pearson said. “It fills the need because they’re in the neighborhood and they’re easy to get to. You can hopefully fill that immediate need.”

After hearing about Blessing Boxes, Pearson wondered how she could build them. She approached Home Depot, which hosts “do-it-herself” workshops. The company was willing to partner, and on Dec. 17, they held a build workshop. The group of volunteers constructed six boxes.

The Topeka Capital-Journal (https://bit.ly/2kyX0uA ) reports that three have been installed - at S.W. Huntoon and Buchanan streets, at S.W. 12th and Buchanan streets, and at S.E. 28th Street and Indiana Avenue. The three remaining boxes will be installed in the coming weeks. The box at Avondale East will primarily be stocked with items for children because it’s at a school, Pearson said.

She would like to see 20 boxes around the city eventually.

“The demand is great,” Pearson said. Often when she returns home from work in the evening, the box near her home is emptied.

Pearson has been outside on a couple of occasions when recipients have stopped by the box. One family, whose SNAP benefits had run out for the month, was in need of after-school snacks. They were very thankful, Pearson said.

Many community members have stepped up to support the project. One person has contributed “blessing bags,” which hold about nine items, such as snacks and gender-specific personal hygiene items. Local company Devader Pools and Spas recently gave a cash donation of more than $100, Pearson said.

“I’ve been really excited by the response. It’s been a community project,” she said.

Since creating a Facebook page for the effort, Pearson has fielded a lot of local inquiries on how to get involved. She’s also heard from people across the country who want to start Blessing Boxes in their own communities.

Pearson hopes to find sponsors for another build event and plans a “stock the box” fundraiser on social media. She’s also interested in hearing from organizations that would like to host a Blessing Box.

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Information from: The Topeka (Kan.) Capital-Journal, https://www.cjonline.com


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