By Megan Erbacher
St. Joseph Parish in Princeton has a new way to help parishioners and community members. A large, wooden box sits perched on three posts at the corner of Race Street and St. Joe Lane, with a note attached to the hinged door which reads: “Blessing Box — Take what you need, give what you can. Above all, be blessed and bless others.”
The box’s door has a clear window to show the various items inside, like laundry detergent, toothpaste and canned goods. If someone — anyone — needs help, they are welcome to take items from the box.
At the end of last year, Angie Paul, St. Joseph’s business manager, saw a Blessing Box outside of Princeton Presbyterian Church, and she wondered if her parish could adopt a similar program to help even more people. Paul presented the idea to the parish’s Evangelization and Outreach Commission to get their opinion, and they coordinated with and modeled their program after Princeton Presbyterian’s ministry.
Father Brian Emmick, pastor of St. Joseph in Princeton, used holy water to bless the Blessing Box on April 28. It was built and installed by parishioner Joe Collins.
The purpose of the Blessing Box is to complement services that provide food to those in need, with a focus on providing necessities that SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program), or food stamps, do not cover; for example, personal hygiene items and cleaning supplies.
Mary Collins, who serves on St. Joseph’s Evangelization and Outreach Commission, said the project was the perfect program. Collins stressed the program has been a group effort from the beginning.
“I asked my husband (Joe) if he could build (The Blessing Box),” Collins said. “He looked at it and talked to the man at Princeton Presbyterian Church who built and installed theirs . . . . We’ve had a great response from the parish. It’s been awesome.”
Father Emmick said he feels the Holy Spirit brought many things together with the Blessing Box.
“As a parish, it’s on our hearts to do something really concrete and practical to help be that blessing to the people on-the-ground in the community, and to do that in a way also that we can grow in generosity ourselves,” Father Emmick said. “Also it brings us together as a community because all different faith traditions are doing this.”
Collins said the parish simply wants to help all neighbors, and the box is a way to “fight food insecurity and help families in need.”
Father Emmick said the parish council wanted the location of the box to be visible for people who need it, but also in a spot where they would feel comfortable accessing it like they aren’t being watched.
“They can come up when they have those needs and not feel like there’s a lot of scrutiny either,” he said.
St. Joseph parishioners believe both of Princeton’s Blessing Boxes will help dismantle the stigma that comes with asking for help because they are designed to create an equal ground for givers and receivers as both can be done anonymously through the same door.
The Blessing Box is replenished by anyone who can and is willing to donate, Collins said. Needed items include soap, shampoo, conditioner, toilet paper, dish soap, deodorant, toothbrushes, diapers; small non-perishable food items like tuna or peanut butter.
Donations can be made in several ways: Placed in an outreach basket by each door at church, dropped off at the parish office between 8 a.m. to 3 p.m., or added to the box 24 hours a day for complete anonymity.
Collins said St. Joseph parishioners are trying to answer some prayers.
“I read something the other day that said: ‘If you have the opportunity to help someone, keep in mind you might be the answer to their prayer,’” she said. “It’s really hard, I think, for a lot of us to even comprehend that there are people who don’t have enough food for their kids. Hopefully, this will be something that does encourage people to think about that, and just get people more aware.”
Father Emmick and his parish members hope others will see the need and success of the Blessing Boxes and want to start a similar ministry in their community.
“It’s definitely been a blessing for us, too, as it has for the community,” Father Emmick said. “I feel like whenever we grow in that charity in our heart that love and gratitude also draw us closer to Christ and His presence.”
For more information, contact the parish office at 812-385-2617 or visit the St. Joseph Princeton Blessing Box Facebook page.