Blessing Boxes aim to keep hungry fed all year

Blessing Boxes aim to keep hungry fed all year

Woonsocket celebrates legacy of civil rights leader this weekend

WOONSOCKET – Over the past 17 years, Woonsocket’s Dr. Martin Luther King Committee has initiated projects large and small in celebration of the civil rights leader, from city-wide cleanups, to creation of colorful memorials and murals.

In 2018, the group has started a new project members say could have a positive impact on those in need in the community all year.

“Blessing Boxes,” repurposed older-model newspaper boxes filled with supplies including water, granola bars and other ready-to-eat foods, will be placed at various locations throughout the city, and regularly stocked with supplies to feed the city’s hungry.

“We want them to be accessible to people who really need the food,” said Margaux Morisseau, a member of the planning committee. “It might be a child walking to school who didn’t have breakfast.”

The committee has 12 of the boxes, which once held daily newspapers for purchase. Morisseau said the units were donated to the organization she works for, NeighborWorks Blackstone River Valley, by The Woonsocket Call so long ago that she doesn’t remember when, and they sat in a basement collecting dust for years.

On Saturday, they’ll be pulled out and painted with designs created by RiverzEdge Arts Project by volunteers, filled with donated food, and distributed at locations including St. James Baptist Church, Calvary Worship Center, RiverzEdge headquarters on Second Avenue and Lot O Laundry, a new laundromat on North Main Street.

The boxes will serve as mini food pantries, with partner organizations keeping them stocked all year.

“It is an open box and people can go and take what they need,” said Morisseau. “We definitely know it’s an experiment.”

Several local businesses, churches and social service organizations have adopted the mini pantries, but Morisseau noted they are looking for several more to sign on. The partner organizations are asked to make a one-year commitment to keep the boxes filled.

The project marks a local version of a Day of Service, a national tradition aimed at recognizing King’s contribution to the country’s history.

All are invited to St. James Baptist Church at 340 South Main St. this Saturday, Jan. 13, to kick off the project from noon to 3 p.m. Volunteers are asked to bring donations such as food, drinks and toiletries, and will paint the boxes blue and green to create a uniform look, with instructions. They will stencil them with maple leaves, in recognition of the state tree, and apples, to mark the state fruit.

Morisseau said that at first, the Woonsocket-based group thought they had an original idea, but they’ve since found similar initiatives in other places across the country.

“It is better to give than receive,” said Deacon Thomas Gray, another member of the committee. “The service project that is part of the MLK weekend this year gives us all a chance to give throughout the year. We hope the community comes out strong to support the Blessing Boxes that will ensure that no one in our city goes hungry.”

The day of service will be just one of several events taking place throughout the weekend, organized by the committee with help from NeighborWorks and partner business Citizens Bank. Each year, the group chooses a theme for the events, which run from Friday through Monday, and at the 17th annual celebration they’re asking what people are doing for others in recognition of the need to come together as a community to support one another.

This Friday, Jan. 12, the annual James W. Hinson Scholarship Banquet will be held at NeighborWorks’ Millrace Event Space at 40 South Main St., beginning at 6:30 p.m. The event will feature keynote speaker Navy Lt. Commander Kasim Yarn, the secretary of Veteran’s Affairs for the State of Rhode Island.

Morisseau said Yarn was chosen for his leadership both in the state and the black community.

Proceeds from the banquet typically support two scholarships of $500 to $1,000 for high school seniors who have made strong contributions to the community.

“We are trying to cut costs as much as possible because we want to make sure as much as possible is given to the scholarship fund,” Morisseau said. “Unfortunately last year we didn’t make enough money to be able to provide scholarships.”

Tickets for the event are $30 and can be purchased from committee members and at St. James Baptist church.

This Sunday, Jan. 14, starting at 3 p.m., St. James will host its annual Interfaith Worship Service led by special guest Rev. Tom Wiles, of American Baptist Churches of Rhode Island.

And on Monday, Jan. 15, the city’s annual MLK Memorial Service will be held at the MLK Memorial Sculpture Garden at the intersection of South Main and Mason Streets, with addresses from state and local elected officials and event sponsor Citizens Bank. A reception will follow at St. James.

All events except for Friday’s banquet are free and open to the public.

“We hope the whole city joins us in celebrating Dr. King by showing up to one of the four events this weekend,” said committee member Carol Wilson-Allen.

“Our annual MLK weekend gives everyone a chance to be involved,” said member Emma Dandy. “It is great to see everyone come out and work together. It really shows the unity that is here in our community.”