Alabama’s Hunger Sunday emphasis is Sunday, Feb. 20, 2022.
When Shawn Lowery became pastor of Union Springs Baptist Church in Randolph in 2019, church members already were talking about doing some sort of food ministry. They just didn’t know what.
“We have several areas around us that are not financially well off, and we just had a desire to help our community,” Lowery said. “But we’re in Chilton County and kind of isolated, so we were trying to figure out how to make that work.”
Then a church member mentioned an idea he’d seen — a blessing box, a variation of the Little Free Pantry idea started by Jessica McClard of Arkansas as a grassroots effort in 2016.
‘Take what you need’
The idea is to build a weather-proofed, cabinet-like box outside the church, office or organization filled with nonperishable food items, paper goods and hygiene items people in the community can take from when needed, no questions asked. The motto is, “Take what you need, give what you can.”
McClard took the Little Free Library idea — where neighbors take or leave a book at a tiny “library” in someone’s yard — and adapted the concept to meet food needs.
A little over a month later, CrystalRock Cathedral women’s ministry in Ardmore, Oklahoma, started Blessing Box, and by August 2016 the movement was global, according to the Little Free Pantry website.
The tiny pantries have been popping up all over since then, including outside of Baptist churches around Alabama. Lowery said it’s been a “very profitable ministry” for Union Springs Baptist.
“It was just a way we were able to do a food ministry with our budget and our manpower,” he said. “We asked people to donate, and our general thing has been to tell people, ‘When you go buy your groceries, just pick up a few extra nonperishable items and bring them to the church.’ We’ve also had monetary donations.”
The Little Free Pantry website offers tips to anyone interested in building a box including:
- Consider your location. Choose a place accessible by car, safe and away from high traffic or high crime areas. Position the box facing north or east to shield food from the summertime heat. (Boxes often have glass doors.)
- Make plans. A Google search for “Little Free Library plans” will bring up several options that can be adapted for a blessing box. A blueprint also is available at littlefreepantry.org/frequently-asked-questions. Scroll down and click on “pilot.”
- Decide how to stock. Decide how you will get donations to keep the shelves filled.
- Stay safe. Keep your box well maintained both inside and out. If there is concern about the legal ramifications if someone gets sick or gets a splinter, the Little Free Pantry website mentions that the Bill Emerson Good Samaritan Food Donation Act provides protection in most situations. But for specific questions check with a lawyer; also check to see if property insurance covers the pantry.
For more information visit littlefreepantry.org.