The eighth blessing box in Boone County was unveiled Friday night — the latest in a continuing effort to help those in need, especially during these difficult times.

The box was placed in front of the Mary Lee Johnston Community Learning Center, 1509 Hinkson Ave., and stocked with non-perishable food items, baby supplies and basic toiletries.

The items are anonymously donated and anonymously received as needs arise. Much like little free libraries, the idea behind a blessing box is to take what you need and leave what you can.

Before cutting the ribbon on the latest blessing box, Boone County Blessing Boxes co-founder Renee Taylor explained how the movement came to Columbia. It started as a conversation over dinner and has spread throughout the community.

Taylor, a former emergency medical technician and furniture artist, and her husband, Wayland, were having dinner one night with Rev. James Gray when they started talking about the need in Columbia.

“We’re very spiritual and very connected to God,” said Gray, an associate pastor at Second Missionary Baptist Church. “I found out that we wanted to do something together, so we created the blessing boxes.”

The newest one was sponsored by the Zeta Phi Beta sorority, Upsilon Iota Zeta chapter.

“Zeta Phi Beta was founded on four principles. One of those principles is service,” said chapter President Martha Tomlin-McCrary.

“We wanted to come out and do what we could do to show our support, and we will continue to service this community.”

The idea of blessing boxes reportedly originated with a woman in Fayetteville, Arkansas, who started her Little Free Pantry in March 2016.

Blessing boxes have since become a global phenomenon. Boone County now has at least eight in locations ranging from Calvary Episcopal and Seventh Day Adventist churches, Indian Hills Park and several private residences.

Boxes are filled multiple times daily as needed. The Mid-Mo Blessings Boxes and Free Little Pantries Group uses its Facebook page to identify boxes that are empty.

On Friday, several Columbia Police Department officers attended the blessing box unveiling to become more aware of the movement.

“We run into people frequently that are hungry or in need of something,” Lt. Michael Hestir said. “The officers knowing about this and being part of the program and being invited in — we’re glad to do that and honored to do it.”

Boone County Blessing Boxes recently received an under-the-radar $5,000 donation to help supply boxes through the winter.

“Every dollar makes a huge difference,” Taylor said. “We’re just believing that really great things will happen.”

  • Community reporter, fall 2020 Studying arts & culture magazine writing and music Reach me at majord@mail.missouri.edu or in the newsroom at 882-5700

  • Galen Bacharier is an assistant city editor at the Missourian. He has reported on higher education, state government and breaking news. Reach him at galenbacharier@gmail.com or on Twitter @galenbacharier.

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