A new free food pantry in Piedmont only has two simple rules.
“If you got it, leave it. If you need it, take it,” said Piedmont resident Danny Freeman, one of the founders of the pantry, which he and several friends recently established behind his cabinet shop on Center Avenue.
Often referred to as “blessing boxes,” pantries modeled on the “give and take” system are a common sight around needy neighborhoods. One organization, Little Free Pantry, even offers a map of blessing boxes across the U.S. that have registered.
Susan Jackson, who helped organize and open three similar pantries in Cleburne County late last year, said the community has appreciated the blessing boxes.
“We’ve been really fortunate,” Jackson said. “The community is really taking hold with both giving and taking.”
Since the Piedmont cabinet was stocked for the taking on July 10 — it’s accessible at any time, day or night — Freeman said it has been a success for its first week.
“We were worried about designating people to keep it full,” Freeman said. “We’ve really had no problem so far. It stays full.”
The pantry is staying full, Freeman said, not because of a lack of takers, but because of a willingness for members of the community to give. He said he sees the stocks of non-perishable foods in the pantry get taken, but there is always someone bringing more back.
“One lady even told me that her family was preparing a good meal out of the pantry,” Freeman said. “It just feels so good to be able to help out.”
Freeman said the seed of the idea for the Piedmont pantry was planted when fellow resident Todd Byers saw an article online about similar service in Scotland. After talking through logistics, Freeman and Byers decided a blessing box was something their city could use.
An anonymous donor supplied a 4-foot by 6-foot metal cabinet, then Freeman had a small roof and platform built to keep users out of the rain. At that point the pantry was ready to open.
The three blessing boxes in Cleburne, which are located in Fruithurst, Heflin and Ranburne, have been running smoothly, Jackson said.
Jackson said she’s amazed at the community’s ability to maintain the boxes’ stock and condition, all on their own.
“We’ve assigned people to sort of alert us if there’s anything wrong with the boxes,” Jackson said. “We’ve gotten no calls.”
Neither pantry is limited just to food, offering diapers, toilet paper and other essentials that food stamps might not necessarily cover.
According to both Jackson and Freeman, the whole idea behind their blessing boxes is providing no-questions-asked access for people in need.
“It’s a non-judgmental way of fulfilling a need,” Jackson said. “It can be kind of embarrassing to some, but sometimes things are just short.”
“People that need it don’t have to answer questions,” Freeman said. “Our biggest thing now is getting the word out to more people that do actually need it.”