This article first appeared in the Bradford Era on May 19, 2017.
On any given Sunday, needy people stop by the Episcopal Church of the Ascension on Chautauqua Place in Bradford with the hope there will be food to spare.
Consequently, when the Rev. Stacey Fussell, rector of Ascension, learned Amanda Kemick and Stacy Wallace needed a venue for their new Blessing Box, she volunteered outdoor space at the church for the project.
The Blessing Box, which was installed near the church parking lot on Mother’s Day, sits atop a pole several feet high. Inside the unlocked box are canned and boxed foods stocked by parishioners and community residents. All food items in the box are free for the taking.
Kemick, a stay-at-home mom, said she and Wallace, an attorney, came up with the Blessing Box idea last fall after viewing a post on Facebook.
“Many of our friends on Facebook expressed interest and support of the idea,” Kemick recalled. “We began with the construction of two boxes” after funding was provided by two private donors.
Kemick said they contacted Scott Oxley, carpentry teacher at Bradford Area High School, for help. When they asked Oxley if the students could construct two boxes similar to what was seen online, he agreed and asked only that materials be provided.
The first box was installed Sunday at the church by Kemick and Wallace’s husbands, Donny and Curt, respectively.
“Stacy and I both have children and it was a great experience for them to help install and put food in the first box,” Kemick said. “On the box we put, ‘Give what you can, take what you need.’ “It is our hope that anyone in need — a hungry child or a mother who doesn’t have time to get to the grocery store — can stop and take what is needed.”
She said the blessing box is not limited to food, as donations of personal hygiene items and baby products are also acceptable.
In explaining the notion behind the blessing box, Wallace said it is intended to bless all people with food and items, regardless of class.
“I know some people do not want to take something for nothing, so if you see something there you need, take it and put something else in — like a barter system,” Wallace explained.
She said the hope is the boxes will be replenished by the community. As a backup measure, one or two groups from the community will be assigned to stock the boxes, as needed.
Suggested store-bought items for the box include canned foods, dry cereal or other dry items such as pasta and rice. Small clothing items that include new packages of underwear, socks or gloves, are also acceptable donations.
Fussell said initial food items stocked in the box, that included small canned hams, were taken. They were quickly replenished with other food, however. She said the supplies will likely be appreciated by people in the neighborhood which is close to housing projects.
“From our standpoint, it is not uncommon to have folks come by the church on a Sunday afternoon and say ‘I don’t have any food in my house,’” Fussell remarked. “Ascension doesn’t keep a stocked food pantry” and none of the other pantries are open on Sunday.
“This will help if you’re in a bind,” she continued. “It really is the hope that people will restock it.”
In making a final comment, Kemick said their greatest hope is that by next winter a local agency or private business will offer to house a blessing box inside its doors.
“Our outdoor blessing boxes will get less use in the winter due to foot traffic and the practicality of food storage, yet we could use blessings year round,” she said.
Kemick said there is another blessing box ready to be installed, but a location hasn’t been determined. She said a church or organization that can ensure the box will stay filled would be preferable. Kemick said they have plans to make additional boxes in the future.
For more information on the blessing boxes, contact Kemick or Wallace via Facebook or call Wallace at Hamlin Bank and Trust Company at 887-5555.