Bethlehem Elementary School Gets ‘Blessing Box’
The sign on the front of the new “blessing box” food pantry outside Bethlehem Elementary School tells the public to “take what you need” and “leave what you can.”
The weatherproof storage closet was placed outside the school Wednesday, and now contains non-perishable items such as spaghetti sauce and pasta, cereal and canned vegetables for those in need of food. Also in the box are hygiene products including toothpaste and toothbrushes, as well as jackets and blankets if needed.
The box is open and available to all 24 hours a day, and those wanting to leave non-perishable items there also may do so.
The initial stocking of items in the box was done by the Ohio County Family Resource Network, though Bethlehem Elementary School student council members are tasked with monitoring the box during school months, with volunteers from the Grace Lutheran Church helping out during the summer.
The students will monitor items to see what needs to be restocked, and to make certain no food is in the box that is beyond its expiration date.
Principal Stacy Dietz said community service projects are part of the mission of the school.
“We want to encourage them to give to others, and to accept in times of need,” she said.
The school is planning a fundraiser in May to benefit the purchase of items for the box.
“It’s going to be our first real mission,” said teacher Shannon Tamburin, student council monitor.
Claudia Raymer, executive director of the OCFRN, said the blessing box in Bethlehem is the third so far placed by the OCFRN. The first two were placed at the Valley Grove Community Center, and outside the West Liberty Volunteer Fire Department.
Additionally, the fourth blessing box maintained by Unicare is located at Garden Park in Warwood, and the Soup Kitchen of Greater Wheeling has placed one outside its location at 1610 Eoff St. in downtown Wheeling.
The OCFRN plans to install two more blessing boxes in the coming months at other locations in Ohio County. These will be placed where it is determined there is a need, and where residents have little access to public transportation that can take them downtown to the soup kitchen, according to Raymer.
“We provide the initial boxes and the initial food,” she said. “After this, we hope they will be sustained by the community.”
The OCFRB is seeking unexpired, unopened, and non-perishable food items for the boxes, as well as hygiene products and war clothing and blankets.
It is important that food items donated only need water to be prepared, and not perishable items such as butter or milk, she said. It is also helpful if the donated canned item has a pop top and there is no need for a can opener.
The other blessing boxes have been in operation since the fall, and are being used, according to Raymer.
“We are finding that hygiene items are being accessed frequently, and we need to keep restocking toothbrushes and toothpaste,” she said. “It takes a lot of organizing.”
Grace Lutheran Church serves as a partner in education with Bethlehem Elementary School.
Jeanie Deem, a member of the church, said the church will help to make certain the Bethlehem box is kept well-stocked. The church maintains its own food pantry and will bring items from there, she said.