Q&A with the founder of the Rogersville Community Blessing Box

Jeff Bobo • Mar 22, 2020 at 3:00 PM

ROGERSVILLE — On Wednesday afternoon, the Rogersville Community Blessing Box was packed with canned food, noodles, rice, beans, shampoo, instant coffee and other food and toiletry items.

Shortly after noon on Thursday, the Blessing Box was down to a few cans of chickpeas and a couple of bags of freeze-dried black beans and a handful of miscellaneous items.

By Thursday evening, it was fully stocked again, this time with cereal, soup, soap and sugar, among other items.

This has been the constant cycle since Oct. 6 of last year when the women’s group at the First Christian Church installed the Blessing Box at 201 S. Depot St. in front of their church.

Those in need aren’t required to fill out any forms or meet financial guidelines. They simply open the box, take what they need, and leave the rest for the next person.

Blessing Box founder Ruth Mowell-Byrns told the Times News that the purpose of the Blessing Box is to provide a place where neighbors can help meet the needs of neighbors, whether it be food, toiletries, hats, gloves and socks, or even a roll of toilet paper or two.

Byrns took the time Wednesday to participate in a little Q&A.

KTN: How did the Blessing Box get started?

Byrns: Our women’s group at church wanted to come up with a way to help the community as a whole. We already do our Laundry Ministry, and we have all the churches involved in that. But we wanted to do something to address hunger.

KTN: After everything that’s been going on with the COVID-19 crisis, have you been able to keep it stocked?

Byrns: We have and it gets emptied every day.

KTN: How does it get stocked?

Byrns: I had put out a request to the residents of Rogersville through “My Rogersville” Facebook page, just asking for someone to take one day each month to fill the box. I got what I call “The 31” — a combined 31 individuals and businesses — who fill that box every day.

KTN: What kind of items do they put in there?

Byrns: Oh my goodness, all kinds of things. Noodle soups. Canned meats like tuna, Treet and Spam. Vienna sausages, canned ham, canned fish. Basically any kind of item that fits in there and falls into the category of nonperishables.

KTN: What about toilet paper?

Byrns: We have that too. The bottom shelf is for putting things in for hygiene. We put in dental kits. We have a dentist, Dr. Saunders, who supplied us with dental kits. They get a toothbrush, toothpaste, and floss.

KTN: What time does it get stocked?

Byrns: It varies. That’s up to the individual who signed up for that day. It just depends on their schedule, when they want to do it. For me, I fill the box at all times, all during the day. I’ve got one person who does the evening. I’ve got one person who does the morning.

KTN: I wonder how many people it takes to empty it.

Byrns: At first we had some problems. We went through people who were abusing it. We had one person who would come and just empty the box. So, we just waited for him to show up, and we told him we couldn’t have him do that anymore. They’ve been pretty good about not doing that anymore after that.

KTN: What was that person’s justification for taking everything?

Byrns: It was a person who didn’t need it. He would just take the whole thing, and he said he felt like he wasn’t abusing it. I said, if you take it all, that’s everything for the whole day, and nobody else can have anything. Do you think that’s OK? He really thought it was OK.

KTN: Did he change his ways?

Byrns: I haven’t been able to catch him doing it, and we’ve had food there all the time, so I’m going to assume that means he stopped.

KTN: Now that you solved that problem, do you have any idea how many people are benefiting from the Blessing Box?

Byrns: I would think that we have at least 10-20 people who come to the box on a regular basis and try to get something. And for the most part they’ve been taking only what they need, so I’m going to give them credit. That’s rare. We’ve been really lucky that we’ve had the cooperation that we’ve had.

KTN: Do you have more people (in need) than stuff, or more stuff than people?

Byrns: We have more people than we have stuff. We can always use more stuff. The things they really look for the most is canned meats. I’ll go get day-old bread and put a bunch of loaves in there, and it goes like a flash.

KTN: Do you need more contributors, or is “The 31” enough?

Byrns: We can always use more contributors.

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