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 | By Denyse Shannon 

Simple Request Turns Into a Community Blessing

When he was asked to build a Blessing Box, Jim Koski wasn’t even sure what it was, nor what it would look like. But the nearly 80-year-old parishioner of St. Dominic in Saginaw knows his way around a workshop and was undaunted by the request from pastoral minister Sharon Wahl.

The Blessing Box, a small food pantry, is set up on Ss. Peter and Paul Church grounds where people who have extra food can leave some, and people who need it can take some. Though it was built and placed by Jim, it has become a parish-wide project that has not only staff, but entire families taking ownership.

“There was a need in the parish,” said Sharon.

After the food pantry was closed at Ss. Peter and Paul was closed a few years ago, the community needed something to fill that void. Father Steve Gavit knew he could count on Jim to build the box.

“I’m always building something for the church,” Jim said. “God gives every one of us a talent of some kind. I’ve been fortunate to still move around pretty good at the age of 80, and if somebody needs something, I’m happy to do it.”

Jim says he didn’t know what the Blessing Box would look like, but one of his talents is coming up with the plans to build unique things. He built most of the furniture in his house and formerly owned a construction company. For most of his life, he’s kept himself busy with building projects.

“The way I look at it, I’ve been given a gift to be able to do this stuff, and come up with it,” he said. “It’s a shame to have a gift and not use it.”

Using his gift, Jim designed and built the Blessing Box big enough to hold canned goods, potatoes and some fresh produce for anyone to pick up as they need them. The box was also placed on stilts to keep animals from getting into it.

Sharon said the community pantry is not only a blessing to those who live nearby, but the parish as well.

“The blessing of the whole thing is that our parishioners have taken ownership of it,” she said.

Whether it’s a family that uses the box to teach stewardship to their kids, or someone just wanting to help, “it’s touching how you’ll see a 92-year-old bring a bag of groceries, or people pulling up, opening their trunk and putting groceries into it,” she said.

Some people have adopted the project and some of the people who use it as a part of their regular faith life.

“Our maintenance guy gives me a daily update,” she said, adding he started making sure there was a jar of coffee in the box every week for a particular patron.

Another parishioner, who started coming to Mass, had gone through some hardship and was filling in her own groceries from the box, Sharon said.

“Now every Wednesday, she goes and puts things in as gratitude for all the times she had to take things out of it.”

There are many people from the parish who contribute to filling the box, including Lisa Rapin, who says she typically makes a stop once a week to put in groceries – including those items not covered by a Bridge Card.

She also includes special treats for the holidays, from chocolate crosses for Easter to small gifts for Mother’s Day.

“It’s passing on a gift,” she said. “It’s a good feeling. It’s always better when we give than when we receive.”

Lisa isn't sure who receives the items she places in the Blessing Box, but she doesn’t mind.

“I just have faith in God that he’s going to direct the right person there – whoever needs it,” she said.

Sharon agrees that trusting in God is behind the whole idea of the Blessing Box. Early on, there were some people who wondered whether they should install security cameras or other security measures, but in the end the parish opted to leave it open. There are a lot of people living in poverty in the area who might not reach out for help if they knew they were being observed, she explained.

“Yes, we have had a few incidents where people have hoarded things,” she said, “but the whole concept is (to) take what you need, give what you want.”

There are no restrictions on who takes something or how much, or what anyone contributes.

There have been times when there is an abundance of one type of food or another, but Sharon says they’ve always found a use for it, and there is always a need somewhere.

“When we have too much in there, we glean from that and help the (veterans),” she says.

Along with food, some people have been putting reading materials, spiritual books and pamphlets in the box, so Sharon says she’s talked to the parish’s go-to builder. Shortly after, Jim had another project on his plate:  building a “Little Free Library” book exchange box to be placed alongside the food box.

Over the years, Jim says he’s built more projects for the church than he remembers, including flower stands, a manger and a handrail.

“I have a belief that you never get more pleasure in life than doing something for somebody else,” he said. “I just get nothing but pleasure from seeing somebody use or do something that I had a part in making happen.”