PRINCETON — Getting enough food is always an issue for the needy, but their need is even greater while the ongoing pandemic closes businesses and keeps people from working, so cupboards where food can be found and donated are going up across Mercer County.
These cupboards, dubbed Blessing Boxes, are being installed through a partnership with Volunteer West Virginia and Community Connections, Inc., with the help of staff and volunteers, according to Program Director Kathrn Kandas with Community Connections.
Organizers and volunteers are purchasing and installing 13 Blessing Boxes throughout Mercer County and one in Summers County. These boxes will be filled with nonperishable food items. The needy take what they require from the boxes, and donors can put food in them.
“The motto is ‘Take what you need, Give what you can,’” Kandas said. “Through the generosity of volunteers, faith-based organizations, civic groups, collegiate groups, first responders and law enforcement, and local leaders, we will work to keep these boxes stocked with food products.”
Grants Supermarket is donating nonperishable food to help stock the Blessing Boxes. Co-owner Ron Martin said the grocery store chain plans to keep contributing food when it’s needed.
“The idea is for everybody to help out, but sometimes it doesn’t work out that way,” Martin said. “It’s a good thing. It’s a really good thing.”
“They call when they need stuff and we help them fulfill that need,” he stated.
Other contributors have made the new program possible. The Sign Shop in Princeton donated the metal signs for the Blessing Boxes, Kandas said.
“When we went to pick the up, we went to pay them, but they said no and said they wanted this to be their contribution,” she recalled.
The first Blessing Box was installed Wednesday evening outside the Cumberland Road Church of God in Bluefield, and more will be put into place when the weather is right.
“As weather permits, we will get the other ones installed as soon as possible. We were hoping to do more (Thursday), but with the rain and the wind, we weren’t sure the concrete would set. It’s a very simple concept. Take what you need, leave what you can,” Kandas said. “It meets the criteria right now with social distancing. It helps individuals without necessarily coming into contact with another human, and it will help reduce food insecurity.”
Kandas said she saw a surge of interest in Blessing Boxes when they were announced, and people commenting about them on social media wanted to know how they can contribute. Donors can leave canned goods, crackers, peanut butter, granola bars and any other shelf-stable food that doesn’t require refrigeration.
People and organizations have called about sponsoring a Blessing Box.
“We’re going to have all these boxes sponsored. I’m getting a real positive vibe from people who want to help than people who would necessarily take everything,” Kandas said. “In some of the most challenging times come the most creative solutions.”
Blessing Boxes will be located at places such as police stations and fire departments, and other sites that are well lit and have a lot of traffic, she said.
Rhonda Helmondollar of Community Connections said putting up the first Blessing Box near the Cumberland Road Church of God took about an hour and a half. A volunteer built the box, then brought it to the site for installation. Each Blessing Box has three shelves for holding food.
“There’s plenty of room,” she said, adding that more are going up soon. “We’re just waiting for the weather to cooperate. We’re waiting for it to stop raining so the concrete will set up.”
The locations for Blessing Boxes will include: Cumberland Road Church of God (Bluefield); the Community Connections, Inc. office on South Walker Street in Princeton; Bluefield Police Department; Matoaka Fire Department; Bluewell Fire Department; Oakvale Fire Department; Princeton Recreation Center; Bramwell Fire Department; Athens Fire Department; Glenwood-Green Valley Fire Department; and CASE-Head Start locations on Bluefield Avenue; New Hope Road in Glenwood; Thorn Street in Princeton; and Summers County Center.
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