February 17, 2022
“Leave what you can, take what you need.”
That is the motto of the Columbus Blessing Boxes Project (CBBP), an organization which erects cabinets across central Ohio to supply free groceries for those in need.
Within the Pickerington area, there are six Blessing Boxes: St. Andrews Episcopal Church (8630 Refugee Rd), Pickerington KinderCare (1545 Cross Creeks Blvd), Legacy Church (859 Windmiller Dr), Epiphany Lutheran Church (268 Hill Rd N), 7692 Busey Rd, and the 7300 block of Basil Western Rd. There is also a box located at Tussing Elementary (7117 Tussing Rd), which is managed by a different organization. A complete map of central Ohio box sites can be found on the organization’s website.
According to CBBP founder Gretchen Davis, around Violet Township, hygiene and baby items are much sought-after. In other areas, like Columbus and Lancaster, where there is a larger homeless population, there is a need for “things that don’t require cooking but fill bellies.”
“Normally we don’t put clothing in boxes, but this time of year we add socks, hats and gloves as we are able, plus hand/foot warmers,” Davis said.
Canal Winchester resident Diannah Pennyman, who manages the box at Legacy Church, agrees that infant items are popular.
“Baby wipes go immediately,” Pennyman said. “Non-perishable baby food, Similac and diapers go very fast.”
Tuna goes quickly as does pasta if sauce is also donated. Personal hygiene items and cleaning supplies are sought after as well.
“If you are struggling with food or housing insecurity, think of what other needs you will have trouble filling,” Pennyman said.
She recommends buying small packages of laundry detergent from dollar stores to donate.
Meal kits that require perishable items to complete such as milk, eggs or butter are not popular. For safety reasons, partially used items and those which have expired are thrown away.
The CBBP began in 2018 as a way for Davis, a Carroll resident, to teach her children the how to give back to their community.
“We couldn’t find an organization that would allow them to volunteer because they were too young,” she said. “My sister started Low Country Blessing Boxes in Charleston, SC, about a year and a half before and has had great success, so we thought we’d try it in central Ohio. We have 90-plus locations now.”
Davis repurposed an old cabinet for her first box, which she placed in a mobile home community on south High Street. “It was used almost immediately.”
“Our longest standing box is at a mobile home park in Westerville. It was our second box to be placed, it’s been there since March 2018. It’s been repaired and repainted but it’s still the same box, it started as a baby dresser!” Davis said.
When donating items to a box, the CBBP asks you to consider the following:
1. Please be mindful that the items may stay in the box for a period of time. Best not to leave things that will go bad in the heat or cold.
2. This is not a place for expired food. If you wouldn’t use it yourself, don’t leave it in the box.
3. Handwritten notes spreading our message of kindness to our neighbors are encouraged, and a great way to get kids involved too!
4. No clothing or books. While we think both would be appreciated, most of the boxes are not big enough to accommodate larger items. (Find a Little Free Library!)
5. Toiletries and baby care items are welcome, such as diapers, band-aids, soap, toothbrushes, et cetera.
6. School supplies and pet food are also welcome!
The “host” of a Blessing Box is the person or group of people who maintains the box and its contents.
Anyone can build a Blessing Box. There are no specifications as to size, shape or color. However, the box must be off the ground and weatherproof.
“If you’re interested in bringing this to your community, let us know when it is done and send us some photos,” the website states. “We will send you a decal and a metal disclaimer plate, add you to our list of locations and help you promote your Blessing Box. Ideally, you’d put the box somewhere in the shade and it needs to be placed so folks can safely pull off the road to take things out or put them in.
You must own the property or have permission from the landowner when placing a Blessing Box. If in a neighborhood with an HOA, you may need permission from them as well.”
Pennyman said that the Legacy Church box “pretty much runs on its own”. The box is always full, but the contents keep changing – not long after items are taken, new items appear.
“I’m grateful for the support and use,” Pennyman said.
Pennyman is also the founder of the Imani Center which assists area homeless.