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Local Blessing Box Fills A Need

By Charles Feldman, Reporter

The Maryville Outreach Center is closed on Sunday. It’s closed on Monday as well. It is open for two- and three-hour periods on Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Saturday.

It was not open on November 5 and 12, on December 17 due to bad driving conditions, the week of Thanksgiving and for nearly three weeks during the Christmas holidays, from December 22 through January 7.

That’s when the village’s Blessing Box truly was a blessing. When the food pantry run by the Outreach Center is unavailable to the public, those in need – or anybody, for that matter – can still find supplies there for free.

Even during the holidays.

The Blessing Box is a free pantry run by the Maryville Outreach Center. Located at 504 East Division Street on the southwest corner of the Maryville Police Department parking lot, it is handicapped-accessible and is available 24 hours a day, 365 days per year.

And, while the Outreach Center was closed for the holidays, it remained open to the public.

“Our clients got quite a bit of food before we closed,” said Ann Hale, director of the Center. “The pantry being closed did not have much effect on the Blessing Box because I replace it every day.”

During the holidays, she said,  “There was no noticeable difference than what I normally replace.”

She kept the box stocked with supplies through the recent hiatus. And there were others ready to stand in for her in case she couldn’t.

“I have a couple of volunteers that can fill in for me if I’m not readily available,” she said.

But only the food pantry has permission to stock the Blessing Box. Not even someone from the Maryville Farmers Market, which set it up in the first place, is allowed to put in more food or other items while the Outreach Center is closed.

“Our policy is two years beyond the sell-by date,” Hale explained. “That’s one reason we ask people not to put food in the Blessing Box because we want to sort them when they bring them. The dates aren’t expiration dates. They’re sell-by dates.”

Modeled after the national “Little Free Pantry” initiative that inspired similar boxes all over the country, Maryville’s Blessing Box was funded by the Maryville Farmer’s Market with all labor and construction completed by local businesses.

“According to Ann Hale, when I speak to her – I do see her out there stocking it,” Maryville Mayor Craig Short said, “it is getting used. And it’s very well-used.”

He said that those who use it can go to Grandma’s Attic, also run by the Maryville Outreach Center, for clothes and coats. But Grandma’s Attic was closed for the holidays as well.

“When you’re dealing with volunteers you can only be open so often,” Hale said. “Grandma’s Attic has actually expanded their hours, so that gives plenty of opportunity to volunteer.

“I think we’re the only pantry that is open on Saturday,” she said, “and again, we’re a supplement so they’re not going to totally rely on us for food.

“What we do at the pantry is supplementary,” Hale explained. “They always have a job or food stamps or some other money coming in. It’s not like when we’re closed they’re not going to get food anywhere

“They can only come in twice a month anyway,” she said. Hale said they would have used up their second time before the pantry closed for the holidays. And, she added, they received Christmas baskets filled with food. The Blessing Box would have only served as an as-needed  supplement to that, according to Hale.

Those who receive also have the opportunity to give. “We encourage our food pantry clients to volunteer as a way to give back for what they’re getting,” Hale said. “The Ministerial Alliance, an alliance of all the Maryville churches sponsors them.”

But the hardest working volunteer when it comes to the Blessing Box is Hale herself.

“I usually add to it pretty much on a daily basis,” she said. “It pretty much depends on how much is taken out of it. We have a wide variety of items. We have canned food. We have boxed food. We have personal items, cleaning supplies, personal hygiene items and  soap.”

Usually cleaning supplies and personal hygiene items go the most quickly, she said.

“The canned vegetables move kind of slow, probably slower than anything,” she said. “Right now people are going to take soup and items they’re not going to want to take over the summer. That kind of makes a difference tool.”

“We have pet food,” she continued. ‘Things that people don’t’ think about when they think about food pantries. Paper products, cleaning products, canned foods. We try to offer a little bit of everything.

“Things like winter gloves and hats would be in Grandma’s Attic, not the Blessing Box.”

Grandma’s Attic is open on Tuesdays through Saturday from 10 a.m. to noon and from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. on Tuesday evening.

The food pantry is open on Tuesday evening from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. and on Wednesday through Saturday from 10 to noon. It’s closed on Sunday and Monday.

And holidays.

For more information or to donate food and produce and other things call Ann Hale at the Maryville Outreach Center at  345-9693

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