By Angela Finet, pastor of Nokesville (Va.) Church of the Brethren
“For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me” (Matthew 25:35, NIV).
At the beginning of 2017, our Sunday School class began a study of the Lord’s Prayer. When we got to the phrase, “Give us this day our daily bread,” it gave us pause. We pondered, “What would it mean for us to live each day wondering where we would get food?”
After discussion and prayer, we decided to join the “Blessings Box” phenomenon. Our box is a large, upright Rubbermaid storage container that sits unlocked on the corner of our church property. Inside are 4 shelves filled with non-perishable food, laundry detergent and dish soap, diapers and wipes, and personal hygiene products. The box is identified with a large sign that reads “Blessings Box” and smaller signs that read “Take what you need,” and “Share what you have.”
Earlier this year, we held a service of commissioning as part of our Sunday worship service, and since then, the box has taken on a life and ministry of its own. We’ve learned that there is a tremendous need for these items here in our community. People are taking and sharing virtually every day. As a result of the box being available 24/7, we’ve also noticed a decrease in the number of people calling to ask for financial assistance.
The best way for us to partner with area food banks is to focus more on the non-food items. Food banks do not provide diapers, detergent, and hygiene products. Additionally, since food stamps cannot be used for diapers, they have been most requested and taken from our Blessing Box. A parent cannot take her children to daycare if she doesn’t have diapers, and diapers cannot be bought without going to work for income. It’s a real catch-22 for some families!
We have also discovered the need for food dramatically increases when the schools are closed. Children who receive lunch assistance really suffer when school is not in session, and we’ve seen that translate into a greater demand for food items during that time.
What has been most rewarding is seeing that people who receive help from area food banks want to participate in blessing others. We find that food items from food banks are being left in the box in exchange for toiletry and household items. This truly embodies “take what you need and share what you have.”
And we’ve reaffirmed that we are part of an incredibly generous community both inside and outside the church. Several area dentists have supplied toothbrushes, toothpaste and floss. Several individuals, including families from our Kid’s Club and scouting programs, have committed to making weekly and monthly contributions to the box. Even local businesses have joined in by hosting “diaper drives.” Folks who want to participate but cannot make financial contributions are invited to stop in and create “diaper packs”—repackaged bags of six. We have a cabinet in the church set up to store the packs so that the box can easily be restocked as needed. We also have those who pray regularly for this ministry and for all those who participate that all who give and all who receive will be blessed.
To say the least, the Blessings Box has been transformative for all who have given to and received from this ministry. Our church learned more about what it means to feed the hungry, offer water to the thirsty, welcome the stranger, and work for God’s will “on earth as it is in heaven.” We hope that you will be encouraged and inspired by our story.
The Nokesville Church of the Brethren exhibits what it means to be a vital congregation of the Church of the Brethren. Their discernment process around the Lord’s prayer has empowered them to be “creatively intentional in outreach to new people” and to be an “instrument of God’s Kingdom.” What vision may God have for your community? The Vital Ministry Journey could help your congregation explore this question.