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Blessing Box gives to those in need

Altruism. Compassion. Charity. Hope. These words are tossed around a lot over the holiday season. We buy gifts and prepare meals for our families and friends, all with the intention of showing people we care.

Strangers get in on it too. This week my fast food order was “paid forward” by the person in front of me in line. I reciprocated for the person behind me. It was “a blessing,” to borrow another phrase we hear a lot these days. It felt good.

I feel fortunate to have a life that allows me to stop and appreciate my blessings, and to give a little as well.
But not everyone has the luxury of time for reflection, or even a place to reflect. Some of our neighbors are sick, homeless, or just down on their luck. As anyone who moves around Claremont and the surrounding communities can attest, there are folks in need around nearly every corner.

Claremont residents Jen Rosen and Mary Beth Fletcher, co-founders of Otterspace Arts and The Dreaming Lodge, are acutely aware of the haves and have-nots among us. Their work is in art, healing and meditation. To say they’re open hearted and altruistic would be selling it short. They’re both full of love and compassion. This time last year they were meeting after a meditation group, talking with their friends about doing something for the local homeless community. The group decided they’d create backpack care packages, filled with toiletries, socks, underwear and food. They hand delivered the backpacks to folks in need.

“The next time we met, they told us about their experiences, how moving it was for them to give, and how grateful [the homeless recipients] were to receive,” Ms. Rosen said. “It was so beautiful for them to receive, and so beautiful for us to give. There were tears shed.”

This experience, coupled with a Facebook post about a similar program, sparked an idea: why not set up a public pantry in Claremont, not just for homeless people, but for individuals and families in need as well?

The Blessing Box, Claremont’s 24/7, permanent, year-round free pantry, was born. It opened this summer on Sixth Street, between Harvard and Yale Avenues, behind Claremont United Church of Christ. Among the items in its shelves are canned food, granola bars, applesauce, feminine hygiene items, deodorant, toothpaste and toothbrushes, bottled water, baby food, diapers and wipes, and underwear, socks, T-shirts and hats.

Volunteers from CUCC constructed the box, and The Press owner Steve Rudicel paid for the materials.

“We thought about that church [CUCC],” Ms. Rosen said. “It’s really in a good spot, and it’s a really easy place to direct people to.” The church’s co-pastors, Jennifer Strickland and Jacob Buchholz, were early supporters of the project. “They were the first people we contacted. They were really up for it.”

“Our church imagines itself as a community space, and a place where everyone is welcome and everyone is part of what we do here,” Ms. Strickland said. “So where Jen and Mary Beth approached us with the idea of creating the Blessing Box and having it on our campus, that fit right in with what we do here. We were really excited.”

The Blessing Box is open to anyone in need, Ms. Rosen said, homeless, cold, hungry, or those just having a hard time making ends meet between paychecks.

“Now the cool thing is, it’s a community box,” Ms. Rosen said. “It’s not just the church’s box. They’re hosting it, but it’s really something the whole community can experience, and experience giving to.”

Blessing Box donations are always being accepted.

“It’s amazing to see how things come and go,” Ms. Rosen said. “It’s rewarding when you see the wrappers in the little trash can. People are actually using the Band-aids and the soaps. It’s just really nice to know that our community has something like that now.”

In addition to dropping off one-time donations, families, scout troops, soccer teams or organizations are encouraged to sign up to be temporary Blessing Box stewards, and maintain it for a week. Details are at dreaminglodge.com.

If you do plan to make a supply donation, please note that all items must fit into the box. If it’s full, please don’t stack items beside it, Ms. Rosen asked.

More information, including a “click here” button for online cash donations, is also available at dreaminglodge.com.

“This time of year, when we’re all getting together with friends and family and we’re all giving gifts, we thought, why not give something to our community?” Ms. Rosen said.

Score one for altruism, compassion, charity and hope.

—Mick Rhodes

mickrhodes@claremont-courier.com

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