As of mid-December, a little blue box in Menomonie, Wis., held some boxes of stuffing, baby food, lotion and other daily sanitary items.
Its contents can vary week-to-week, but that’s just what Courtney Wagner, 25, and Paige Reed wanted.
Serving as volunteers with Positive Alternatives through AmeriCorps, the two young women implemented a Blessing Box in the lawn of Oak Ridge Lutheran Brethren Church in Menomonie in late August. The box functions like a little free library of sorts, offering food, clothing and hygiene items through anonymous donations and is maintained by Positive Alternatives.
The concept puts a make-shift, small version of a food pantry in the middle of a neighborhood, and residents are encouraged to use it and stock it with items.
Wagner, originally of Jim Falls, encouraged anyone in need of any extra help to visit the box at any time, regardless of nerves, and take some contents with them.
A senior studying psychology and working toward a social work certificate at UW-Stout, Wagner became involved with Positive Alternatives through AmeriCorps in September 2016. As volunteers through AmeriCorps, she and Reed were tasked with doing a service project through the organization they were assigned to.
The duo was paired with their supervisor, Amanda Schutte, program coordinator of intervention and preventative services at Positive Alternatives. The organization provides youth — specifically at-risk youth — and their families with services and support.
Reed and Wagner wanted their service project to leave a lasting impact, Wagner said, and after some research, the pair found the concept of a Blessing Box.
The box’s position on the church’s lawn, in a neighborhood and across from River Heights Elementary School, Schutte said, makes it accessible to a wide variety of people and families in the area.
“We just felt that there was a need for it,” Schutte said. “It’s easy to get to; you can walk to it. ... You don’t necessarily have to drive. ... convenient for families picking up kiddos.”
Wagner said they also wanted to keep the box near Positive Alternatives, which monitors and maintains operation of the box.
To get the box to Oak Ridge Church, Reed and Wagner relied on community funding and some funding through Positive Alternatives’ prevention services. After reaching out to local churches, the Menomonie Blessing Box found a home in the lawn of Oak Ridge Lutheran Brethren Church.
The pastor at the church, Brent Juliot, said the church was open to the idea of the box sitting on their lawn because of the impact it would have on the community.
“I would say it was an opportunity for us to basically be a blessing to the community, which is what the title of the box implies,” Juliot said.
From what Juliot has observed when he passes by the box, it has been a success in terms of turnover.
“As far as I can tell, it’s working,” Juliot said. “Every time I go by ... it’s, just looking at it, it looks different every time.”
Juliot knew of one church member — who died recently — who had been filling the box, but with the anonymity of the box, Juliot said he has not seen people using the box or filling it.
But he knows the evidence is there, and Wagner said she is satisfied with the result.
“We had our concerns how the box would run and be supplied in the future, but in all honesty, we were very grateful and happy because the box has been very successful,” Wagner said.
Wagner still volunteers with Positive Alternatives, working primarily with the Blessing Box. Schutte said the organization is open to the idea of starting another box, depending on the impact of the Menomonie one, and suggested other Positive Alternatives locations in the state might benefit from the box as well, should the organization open another one.
Schutte encouraged anyone to donate to the box and to contact Positive Alternatives if they have a donation they cannot deliver to the box.