More small food pantries are going up in neighborhoods across Kansas.
The freestanding wooden boxes are called “Paxton’s Blessing Box," and they offer non-perishable food items to anyone who needs them.
Maggie Ballard and her 8-year-old son, Paxton, started the program two years ago when they put up the first blessing box in front of their house on West 13th Street in Wichita.
The red box has two shelves, and is filled with food and hygiene products. All items are available for free 24/7.
"My job for the box is filling it up and make sure nobody just takes too much," Paxton says as he picks out some food items to deliver to the blessing box.
On the front of the box is a small note with the motto: “Take a blessing when you need one. Leave a blessing when you can.”
Ballard says they restock the box every day — sometimes twice a day — and noticed an increase in demand when school was out for winter break last month. She saw children and families accessing the blessing box for food.
The "Paxton's Blessing Box" program took off as word spread about Ballard's box, and the hungry people she was feeding. Others in the community started asking Ballard to help them establish a blessing box of their own. She said yes, and created a process to keep up with requests.
"It kind of fuels our fire to continue to go because we do see that need, and it would be hard to turn a blind eye to that knowing that we see it every day," Ballard says.
A friend came up the box's design and cuts all the wood pieces. Then, she and Paxton build the blessing box, paint it, and label it with their logo, motto and a number, to keep count.
So far, the duo has built and installed 45 blessing boxes throughout south-central Kansas. The community pantries are standing in front of homes, churches and businesses.
"The need and the demand is getting so much bigger and higher that we just continue to keep on growing in Wichita and surrounding areas," Ballard says.
The box “host” is responsible for food donations and restocking, but Ballard says she often helps keep the shelves full by dropping off items where they are needed. She has set up a food warehouse in her basement to store food donations that are dropped off at her house or collected through quarterly food drives.
She also plans special events to raise awareness and donations to support the “Paxton's Blessing Box” program.
Ballard has 10 to 15 requests for blessing boxes right now, and some of those will be located out of state. There is already one “Paxton’s Blessing Box” in North Carolina.