‘Blessing Boxes’ coming to Fort Frances

Summer reporter
Marc Stuempfle

A hungry stomach rumbles and the growing concern of where your next meal will come from is the only thing on your mind.
For those local people struggling to meet their basic human needs, three community pantries–or “Blessing Boxes”–here will soon help ease their minds with one less concern.
First started by the Giant Hearts volunteer group in Thunder Bay, the inspiration for the “Blessing Box” project came from that organization’s involvement in community cleanups and seeing different needs among community members.
This helped organizers come up with the idea of having a community pantry which would be filled with non-perishable foods, hygiene products, and baby items.
Those who need any of these items can take them from the boxes. In turn, those who have the boxes–as well as any other community members–donate items to the “Blessing Boxes” and keep them stocked.
During the fall of 2018, Giant Heart began with two boxes in and around the Thunder Bay area.
Since then the project has taken off not only in Thunder Bay but will be expanding to Fort Frances, Sioux Lookout, and Kenora.
Ashlee Burton is an administrator with Giant Hearts and has helped lead alongside many others with the initiative of tackling a food insecurity problem within her community.
She was part of a group of concerned parents which helped clean up needles from parks and public places in certain neighborhoods.
“We were spending more time in these areas and you end up meeting people and hearing their stories and it just kind of evolved from there,” said Burton.
She added as the project started gaining more recognition as more people started to reach out and ask how they could get involved.
“It’s been really good, we’ve been building like mad all summer. We have about four more on the go and now we have Fort Frances in the project too, which is awesome,” enthused Burton.
One of the administrators heading the project for Fort Frances is Kathy Foy, whose experience over the past 15 years in social work and harm reduction planning has shown her that Thunder Bay and Fort Frances have some of the same problems.
After hearing about the project over social media, Foy wanted to have a box installed on her property. Afterward, she took the opportunity to be a part of the admin group.
Foy said from a young age her mother was a single parent and her family relied on help for her grandparents.
She added not everyone has the same support as she had as a child and it is not as easy to find help.
“There are a lot of people that don’t have that, they don’t have close family connections, or if people are facing addictions they’ve burned all their bridges,” sympathized Foy.
Fort Frances has planned to start with three boxes around the community.
The first box will be set up on Second Street across from the old high school on the property of Garrett and Marilyn Rivalin. This should be up by tomorrow (July 25).
Burton said Marilyn Rivalin messaged her wanting to have a box on her property, and when she told her husband about the idea, he offered to build the boxes.
“I don’t know if I’m the official ‘Blessing Box’ builder in Fort but I’m having fun doing it anyway,” said Garrett Rivalin.
He added the whole idea is very exciting but also humbling at the same time.
“It’s a nice way to give back especially to those that are in need . . . It kind of hits home especially in a small community like Fort Frances where there are less fortunate people there but also in the same sense, there’s people that are homeless,” said Garrett Rivalin.
His hopes are for the project to keep growing while trying to reach out to as many people as possible and he believes it will take off very well here.
“Well, in this day and age, you know people do need help from time to time and it’s certainly is a not only a nice gesture but it feels good to give back right,” he said.
Foy echoed Garrett Rivalin’s response and hopes people are very receptive to the project.
For all the people in need, she wants them to know Giant Hearts is here to support them and is asking for anyone willing in the community for their help as well.
“First of all, the people who have food insecurity, I want them to know that the community is coming together to support. We’re coming together, we’re going to support each other,” said Foy.
For the homeowners who decided to place a box on their lawn and for the volunteers involved, they have grown and learned from their experience, stated Burton.
She added the response has been really good as homeowners have spoken with her about the connections and even friendships they have made from the people regularly visiting the boxes.
Part of Burton’s plan is to assist and help the other communities get started, but also plans on staying focused on keeping everything running smoothly in Thunder Bay.
Giant Hearts is open to volunteers or anyone willing to make donations can find more information on their Facebook page at www.facebook.com/giantheartsthunderbay/ on how to get involved in your local community.