It started out small- just a three-foot-tall box with two shelves for a few dry goods and toiletries.
Now the Blessing Box, located on the front porch of Amanda’s Farm to Fork restaurant in Lula, is more of a large cabinet with multiple shelves to hold everything from canned food to clothing to books and magazines.
The rules for the box are simple: take only what you need and drop off what you can. The box is always left unlocked so community members can stop by 24/7 to peruse the selection of goods.
Amanda Browning, owner of Amanda’s Farm to Fork, said that she has seen people of all ages, from senior citizens to young kids, utilize the Blessing Box.
“We do have a group of children that are in the area and they utilize it…they are adorable, they only take what they need, they never take more than that,” said Browning. “We have senior citizens that since COVID hit, they were struggling with being able to get food items, so a lot of times if they are getting items from a food pantry and it’s stuff that they won’t eat, they’ll trade out.”
The Blessing Box is the brainchild of Mandy Stewart, a Lula woman who felt led to start the box last year as a part of her Love Your Neighbor Ministries.
“The mission of Love Your Neighbor Ministries is first and foremost to make Jesus Christ and His great love for all of humanity known through sharing the Gospel, and then to love our neighbors as ourselves,” said Stewart in an email. “The blessing boxes have not only given us an opportunity to show love to our neighbors by meeting a physical need, but they have also allowed us to get to know our neighbors on a person level and then to be able to share the Gospel and God’s great love for them.”
Browning said Stewart made a Facebook post asking for recommendations for a location for the box, which led Browning to offer the front porch of her restaurant.
"I thought that this would be the perfect place, we had the space right outside our door, it would be easily accessible to the neighborhood and as soon as she got the message back, she installed it a couple days later,” said Browning.
The original Blessing Box had been outside of Browning’s restaurant for about a year when a gentleman offered to build Stewart a larger one. By this point, the box had grown in popularity and was used more frequently because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The current box has been outside of Farm to Fork for approximately four months, according to Browning. Throughout this time, the box has never once been empty.
"It's always surprising, you'll see people pull up outside [and] they'll just unload bags and bags of groceries...it's just amazing how many people want to contribute,” said Browning. "If we're in need, we can put a post out and I can honestly say within 30 minutes someone will show up with whatever [Stewart’s] items are that she's requesting.”
The impact of the Blessing Box is more far-reaching than just the box itself- it has created other opportunities for community outreach, as well. Browning shared that she and another woman from a local church partner each week to host a Bible study for children at Browning’s restaurant.
At each of these gatherings, Browning cooks the children a meal, while the other woman leads the Bible study and helps the children with additional lessons in math, reading and writing.
"They're not just going to the Blessing Box and getting something for dinner that night, they're having a warm meal, they're having someone pour into them, which is so important right now...I don't think we can do enough for our children right now,” said Browning. "We all need some peace and those children get to come in on those Wednesday nights and they get to sing and they get to laugh and color and they get to eat and just for that small amount of time, everything in the world is perfect."
Browning said that without the Blessing Box, she never would have met those children and the Bible study would not exist.
A resident of Lula herself, Browning said that it is “good for the heart” to be a part of the Blessing Box and put back into her community.
“You know, a lot of people pass here and don't even know we exist, but for the people in the area who are in need, they know if they go to Amanda's Farm to Fork, they're not gonna do without...and I love that,” said Browning.
Browning said that as the warmer summer months approach, Stewart will soon start placing fresh produce outside of the box for pickup. In the meantime, Browning and Stewart ask that donors only bring non-perishable food items to the box and refrain from bringing clothes unless there is a need.
Updates on the Blessing Box and specific needs will be posted on the @LoveYourNeighborLula Facebook page. For those who do not have a Facebook page, Stewart can be reached [email protected] for questions about donating items.