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Willmar's first Blessing Box installed

WILLMAR -- Willmar's first Blessing Box is already a busy place, just a few days after it was placed along Willmar Avenue. The Blessing Box, at the corner of Willmar Avenue and Sixth Street Southeast, functions as a miniature food shelf. The wood...

Jesse Borer and his daughter Nellie fill up the Blessing Box with goods Monday at Woodland Centers on the corner of Sixth street Southeast and Willmar Avenue. The Blessing Box is one of two boxes that Borer plans to place around Willmar. Items that can go in the box include non-perishable items such as diapers, books, canned food and toothpaste. Borer said there is a lot of traffic around that area, and he hopes the placement will help people notice the box.Briana Sanchez / Tribune
Jesse Borer and his daughter Nellie fill up the Blessing Box with goods Monday at Woodland Centers on the corner of Sixth street Southeast and Willmar Avenue. The Blessing Box is one of two boxes that Borer plans to place around Willmar. Items that can go in the box include non-perishable items such as diapers, books, canned food and toothpaste. Borer said there is a lot of traffic around that area, and he hopes the placement will help people notice the box. Briana Sanchez / Tribune

WILLMAR - Willmar's first Blessing Box is already a busy place, just a few days after it was placed along Willmar Avenue.

The Blessing Box, at the corner of Willmar Avenue and Sixth Street Southeast, functions as a miniature food shelf. The wooden box with doors contains a variety of non-perishable food items and other basic necessities. Think of it as a little free library with food instead of books.

People in the community are welcome to stop by the box and take what they need or to leave food donations for others.

"Anytime day or night, you can take or give at the Blessing Box," said Jesse Borer of Willmar this week.

Borer and his wife, Amber, had the idea for a box last winter and spread the word. They learned of similar programs in southern states and learned from them.

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Borer, who is a carpenter, built the box, and the couple's children Hunter, 13, Nellie, 11, and Hailey, 9, helped with staining and other preparation. He said he encouraged parents to bring their children along when dropping something off at the box.

The Blessing Box is the first project of a larger effort called Outdoor Impact, which is meant to provide people with opportunities to have an impact on their community, Borer said.

"We've built quite a great group of folks to come along with us on this," Borer said.

The group's Facebook page, Willmar Blessing Box, will be updated with activity at the box. People began visiting the box not long after it was installed Monday evening.

Borer said he or his wife stop by the box at least once a day if not more often.

By Tuesday, about half of the original items in the box were gone. Personal necessities and baby items have been popular so far, he said.

The Facebook page will let followers know what is popular at the box and what needs to be restocked.

When the box is checked, "we will also remove things that shouldn't be in there," Borer said.

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Prohibited items include alcohol, tobacco or sharp objects, he said. Expired or opened items and home-cooked foods are not allowed, either.

Non-perishable food items like pasta, canned goods, crackers or juice boxes can be put in the box along with personal hygiene items like toothpaste, toothbrushes, deodorant, soap and feminine products. Baby items can include diapers, wipes, pacifiers, bottles and formula.

It's OK to leave things like small toys, hats and gloves, seasonal items and school supplies, too.

Borer said donors should use some common sense in the winter and stock the box with things that won't be harmed by the cold.

A second Blessing Box could be placed in the community in about a month, but the location isn't determined yet, Borer said.

"We're looking to grow and grow and grow," he said, but before launching the second box, he wants to see the first one be self-sustaining.

No one needs to donate a whole bag of groceries to the box, he said. "Just pick up a couple things extra, and put them in the box," he said. The box is on Woodland Centers property, and parking is available right next to it.

The box includes a prayer request box with cards and pencils, Borer said. Those who want may leave a prayer request which will be addressed by a separate prayer group which meets regularly.

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"The success of these things definitely depends on the community," Borer said. "It doesn't take much; just a little bit from a lot of people can make a huge difference."

Related Topics: FOOD
In 42 years in the newspaper industry, Linda Vanderwerf has worked at several daily newspapers in Minnesota, including the Mesabi Daily News, now called the Mesabi Tribune in Virginia. Previously, she worked for the Las Cruces Sun-News in New Mexico and the Rapid City Journal in the Black Hills of South Dakota. She has been a reporter at the West Central Tribune for nearly 27 years.

Vanderwerf can be reached at email: lvanderwerf@wctrib.com or phone 320-214-4340
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