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Across the Pastor’s Desk: Coming together to help others

Across the Pastor’s Desk by Erica Cunningham

Erica Cunningham

 

We had a very exciting discussion come up in the Happenings in Albert Lea Facebook group last week. One person asked if Albert Lea had a blessing box. This question generated a lot of discussion and excitement on the possibility of offering this service in Albert Lea.

For those who don’t know, a blessing box or little free pantry is similar to the little free libraries you see around town, except, instead of books, these contain food and other necessities.

The first little free pantry was put up by Jessica McClard in Fayetteville, Arkansas, in 2016. Since then, thousands have popped up around the world.

McClard said the little free pantry movement has worked because it has created space for people to be neighbors.

“Just one small, empty box is often a jumping-off point for other service, which is not what I would have anticipated,” McClard said. “Folks are collecting for brick-and-mortar pantries because they got started through this, or engaging in some other form of community service after being connected through the pantry.”

But McClard is quick to point out that these pantries are not meant to take the place of larger, traditional shelters or food banks.

“Little free pantries are different in that there is a reciprocity component; they fulfill a need to connect or give back,” McClard said.

Food banks have employees who need to go home, she noted, but little free pantries can make food available for those who need it 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

The pantries often contain shelf-stable items, feminine hygiene products, toiletries and diapers. Fresh fruits and vegetables are also very popular.

While the pantries are available for anyone who needs food, they are also available for anyone to leave food. Many little free pantries have the phrase “Take what you need, bring what you can” painted on them.

The idea is that food is always available. When people are in need, there is something available. But there may come a time in their life when they can also donate food or items for others. It is also a great way to bring the community together.

A group of us are looking at possible sites for one (or more) little free pantries. We are currently looking for someone who could construct one for us. We will also need the communities’ help in keeping the pantry stocked. If you are interested in becoming involved, please check out our Facebook page, Albert Lea Blessing Box/Little Free Pantry.

Erica Cunningham is a pastor at Salem Lutheran Church in Albert Lea.