By MARINA WATERS
As Michelle Stewart drives through Jonesborough each day, she’s almost giddy with the excitement of seeing if anyone has added to or taken an item from her new favorite community resource, the Jonesborough Blessing Box.
“Every day that I pull up to the box, I’m just so excited to see things taken out and to see new things in there,” Stewart said after faithfully checking the box. “The box this morning is literally packed. It’s full of stuff. Every morning I’m excited. It’s my happy moment first thing in the morning.”
The Jonesborough Blessing Box, which is located at the Jonesborough Library parking lot, started as a way to offer “blessings” in the form of items such as food or soap to anyone in need throughout the community.
“I saw that other communities were doing the same thing and I thought, ‘My hometown is special. Jonesborough is special,’” she said. “And there are people who have short-term needs that we can address and help with, so I started thinking about this back in November. I just wanted to benefit the community.”
The blessing box was designed to offer non-perishable food items as a supplement to what the Jonesborough Area Ministerial Association’s food bank offers. For now, Stewart said the biggest need is for non-perishable food for kids, such as ravioli or spaghetti, and household and personal hygiene items.
“We want things that people need that they may not be able to purchase right then, nothing perishable,” Stewart said. “There’s cereal in there, pasta sauce and canned meat, all kinds of things.”
The Jonesborough Blessing Box also holds other essential items such as shampoo, toothpaste — and even the item that might be the most sought after during the COVID-19 health crisis — toilet paper.
“When I put (toilet paper) in there, my husband said to me, ‘You know that’s going to be gone first thing,’” Stewart said. “When I went to check it, two rolls were gone, but I was excited that someone didn’t clean it out. Now it’s all gone. But I was like, ‘At least somebody didn’t take it all!’”
Though the idea for the box was to offer a way to meet some small needs, Stewart said the bigger hope was that the box would serve as a sort of blessing for all who come to it, whether they’re taking an item from it or adding something to it.
“The thought behind it is it’s a blessing either way,” she said. “Whether you give to the box or whether you take from the box, it’s a blessing. I think it’s important for people to find a way to help others and to show kindness. Sometimes people may not know how to connect. They may not have time to volunteer with certain organizations, and they may not have a lot of money to give, but when they go to the grocery store they can pick up $5 more of something to put in the box to be helpful to their friends and neighbors. And for the individuals taking things from the box, they may be individuals who have never had to ask for help before or they just had a small interruption to their income or their lifestyle and they just need a little help but they don’t want to ask. This is the perfect way for them to receive what they need and not have anybody questioning them. They just go by and take what they need.”
Mostly, Stewart wanted to provide a supplemental option for folks who are struggling to make ends meet right now.
During the health crisis, when many people have lost jobs and are currently out of work, seems like the perfect time for such a box. But Stewart wanted to get the box up and running months earlier, which she later realized just wasn’t what was meant to happen, she said.
“I thought of it as the timing was by the Lord’s time,” she said. “If this had gotten done in February, it may not have been an interest to anybody. I just had to tell myself throughout the process as each little thing happened that the Lord has the perfect timing. I was antsy and, I’ll be honest, I got a little disappointed it took this long. But when I look back on it now, this was the time that the Lord meant for that box to be installed and to be there to help the community. It was the perfect timing.”
Stewart said she hoped the box would serve as a way to do something for the community by the community and that it’s also a way to help those who might need some assistance at the moment.
“I envision it being for people who have a job and maybe tomorrow’s payday and right now they don’t have much for dinner,” Stewart said, “or tomorrow’s payday and they don’t have toilet paper — meeting those needs is kind of what I envision it as. It was just one of those things that I really felt like this was something I needed to organize for our community to help those who need a little help.”
She hopes it helps those who might need it, but overall, she also wants the box to stand as a blessing to all and a testament of how special she feels her hometown truly is.
“It really is something I just want to do for my town and make sure that people know there is kindness here,” Stewart said. “We’re the oldest town in Tennessee, but we also care about people and we want to show kindness here and we want to show helpfulness.
“It’s not one person’s box. I may have had the idea and fill it during the process, but it’s not mine at all, It’s the Jonesborough Blessing Box. It’s for all of Jonesborough.”
For more information or for updates on the Jonesborough Blessing Box go to https://www.facebook.com/Jonesborough-Blessing-Box-115315796690108/.