Stewart started the ministry after seeing her neighbors going without food and other necessities amid the coronavirus pandemic. Now a simple wooden cabinet she calls the “blessing box” is providing much needed help for her community.
“I love to coupon and find deals, and I actually got a stockpile for my family and I thought, ‘how could I use this?'” Stewart told CNN, referring to her inspiration for the blessing box.
Stewart, 40, a mother of five, went online and saw other communities putting pantry cabinets out in public, but she knew there weren’t any near her home in Lula, Georgia.
“Me and my husband are not carpenters by no means, but we built this little box,” she said.
The blessing box needed a home, and Stewart turned to Facebook. She published a post looking for a location with easy public access.
That’s when Amanda Browning, owner of the restaurant Amanda’s Farm to Fork, responded.
“Girl, I can hook you up. I have the perfect place,” Browning said, volunteering her restaurant’s front porch.
Browning, 45, who also lives in Lula, told CNN that Stewart delivered the box on a late June morning and that the response was immediate.
“All day that day, there was nothing but people from the local area dropping off to fill that box. And it has not stopped,” Browning said.
Browning said the Lula community regularly fills the box with canned goods and soups, along with toiletries like toothbrushes and feminine hygiene products. Local farmers also come by to drop off fresh produce.
The blessing box is so busy that Browning and Stewart are looking to build a larger version to keep up with demand. Browning said that many of her neighbors don’t “just get something from here. They always try to leave something in return.”
She said some people who receive food from local food banks trade their own unused items for food from the blessing box, while others leave magazines and bottles of water.
Browning said that she built her restaurant around the spirit of giving. The restaurant hosts an annual winter coat drive, and she said the portions they serve are intentionally generous.
“We were catering to a lot of senior citizens, and we knew they were on fixed incomes,” she said. “By giving them larger portions, they would be able to eat on it for a few days.”
When the coronavirus pandemic hit, Browning said that the community knew her restaurant would not be able to survive on takeout alone.
Some of her customers have stepped up and order “extra food, then deliver it to some of their friends, take it to other people who were shut-in, and other families in the area,” Browning said.
Seeing the blessing box flourish fills Stewart with emotion, especially when she encounters children coming to the box.
“Seeing the kids come without mom and dad, walk up to the blessing box… It just makes me feel good knowing that it’s there 24/7. Those kids can go to it anytime they need something,” she said.