Hunger doesn’t follow set hours.

Even with resources such as community meals, food pantries and other assistance, not everyone struggling with poverty can get help when they need it.

But now, people will be able to get canned soup, fruits and vegetables, soap and other necessary supplies any time they need it. Blessing Boxes, small-scale, self-serve food pantries available 24 hours a day, are up and operational at locations throughout the county.

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Organized by a group of Leadership Johnson County graduates, the boxes are another tool for local officials to use in the fight against hunger and poverty.

“When people need food, and they can’t get it from a food pantry or family or friends, they have a place to come, day or night, to get some food,” said Darren Habig, one of the organizers of the Blessing Boxes.

The boxes were a project of Team Food For Thought, a group of eight people who came together through the Leadership Johnson County program. As they learned valuable leadership skills, such as teamwork and communication, each group had to come up with a community service endeavor.

Team Food for Thought decided to tackle hunger. After team member Amanda Martin heard about a similar project established in northern Indiana, the team researched the Blessing Box program and discussed what it would require. The group determined that it would be a perfect project for them.

“Early on, we decided we wanted to do something to help our county,” Habig said. “We’re here in kind of a bittersweet time. The bitter part is that there are people in our county with food insecurities. But the sweet part is that we have great people in our county like this who want to help.”

Blessing Boxes are part of a larger effort to set up neighborhood or community pantries where the needy can get non-perishable food, such as canned vegetables and boxed pasta, as well as hygienic items, such as soap and baby wipes.

In Johnson County, 11 percent of the population is living in poverty, according to Census data. For a family of four, that means trying to survive on $25,000 per year or less.

Another 11 percent is just slightly above that level, but still would qualify for free or reduced-price lunches in public schools, said Larry Noonan, a member of Team Food for Thought. More than 11,000 children in Johnson County receive a free or reduced-price lunch, according to state education statistics.

“That’s 22 percent of the population that is struggling daily with food, housing and basic necessities,” he said. “We thought that was a clear indication of food insecurity in Johnson County. So our niche is to help someone who needs a meal right now, and there’s no other place open.”

The boxes are 2 feet wide and 2 feet tall, and mounted on a wooden post set in the ground. Supplies and the cost of stocking the boxes the first time were covered by $750 provided through Leadership Johnson County. Industrial technology students at Franklin Community High School constructed the boxes, which helped keep costs down.

Four different boxes were installed in the county. One is set up outside the Franklin offices of KIC-IT, a homelessness intervention agency for youth and young adults.

“We know that there are almost 600 school-age kids who are considered homeless, and have no place to go. With those 600, there are families that are in great need,” said Dave Sever, board president for KIC-IT. “This is a great addition.”

Another is at Grace United Methodist Church in Franklin. Two boxes have been put in Greenwood, as well, at Greenwood Christian Church and the new Greenwood Middle School.

The boxes are supported by community generosity; people are free to come by and donate items to keep the box filled.

Team Food for Thought hopes the boxes not only fill a niche for assistance that has been missing in Johnson County, but also raise awareness of the issues of poverty and hunger.

“By sharing our story, we’re hopeful that other groups, organizations and individuals will be inspired to bring goods to stock the boxes, and maybe even build a box in their own neighborhoods,” said Heather McManus, a member of Team Food for Thought.

At a glance

Blessing Boxes

What: Small, self-service food pantries offering non-perishable food, water, hygienic items and other supplies to help needy individuals and families. The boxes are open 24 hours a day, and are restocked by community generosity.

Who: The project was completed by Team Food for Thought, graduates of the most recent Leadership Johnson County class

Where: Boxes have been established at the following locations:

  • KIC-IT, 1015 Grizzly Cub Drive, Franklin
  • Grace United Methodist Church, 1300 E. Adams St., Franklin
  • Greenwood Christian Church, 2045 Averitt Road
  • New Greenwood Middle School, intersection of Averitt and Stop 18 roads.
Author photo
Ryan Trares is a reporter for the Daily Journal. He can be reached at rtrares@dailyjournal.net or 317-736-2727.