WATERTOWN — Nearly three years ago, retired Fort Drum soldier Roman Espinoza and his wife saw a story about “Blessing Boxes” on the NBC News with Lester Holt. Seeing that the boxes were similar to the “Little Free Libraries” that had become popular nationwide, but with nonperishable food items filling them rather than books, the couple decided to construct one and place it in their front yard at 123 Chestnut St. for those in need.
Blessing Boxes were popping up across the country at the time the couple put theirs out, but the two weren’t thinking about if they would take off in the north country. Even so, just a few years later, there are dozens of boxes in all sorts of locations from churches and nonprofits to individual residences in Watertown and surrounding communities.
“We never could have imagined it would take off like it has, what a great need it’s filling now for the crisis we’re in now,” Mr. Espinoza said. “If someone needs something immediately, they know there’s something out there in someone’s front yard to be able to pull out nonperishables from and make a meal for their kids at night.”
With the current COVID-19 pandemic sweeping the nation, and the world as a whole, more and more people who are currently stuck at home are in search of ways they can help out their communities in this time of need.
According to Mr. Espinoza, people have gone out of their way to get out and either donate to the boxes, or construct their own. They have also been challenging others to do so.
“It’s of great importance, now especially with the unemployment rate rising and people not knowing where their next meal is coming from,” he said. “The longer this goes on, these boxes are going to be of great importance because a lot of people will be in need.”
Anybody can donate or take food from any Blessing Box in any location at any time, Mr. Espinoza said, something that some still question years later.
Watertown Blessing Box locations include 1220 Coffeen St., 231 E. Main St., 491 Eastern Blvd., 21706 Floral Drive, 508 Mundy St., 1635 Ohio St., 138 Sterling St. and 338 West Broadway Ave., among others.
A full list of Blessing Box locations can be found on the local group’s Facebook page, Blessing Boxes of Northern New York.
Literacy instructional coach Tanya Roy has been helping keep the boxes stocked with nonperishables, but has also gotten involved with the recently established local chapter of #happyperiod, which is putting menstrual products into the boxes as well as donating to food pantries for women in need.
The local group, #happyperiodnorthcountry, right now is focused on Watertown, but plans to eventually expand to all of Jefferson and Lewis counties. The group’s mission is to supply all food pantries, teen centers, etc. with menstrual products, and members have been driving around and putting them in the boxes each week.
According to Ms. Roy, the group had high hopes for collection events to obtain menstrual products to distribute around the city, but when the pandemic hit, those plans changed.
Luckily, through the group’s Facebook page and Amazon list, people over the past month have been donating, so each week the group has been able to distribute products.
“Our community has done a great job making sure people have access to necessities during this time, and this is a great way for people working at home to contribute while maintaining social distance,” she said. “It doesn’t take a lot of time or money and at a time where we want to be doing something, we can do this.”