Caring for the community
Heavy rain couldn’t stop Whitehall-based Girl Scout Troop 6038 from seeing its hard work come to fruition Dec. 9 as the Blessing Box project the troop had been working on was finally installed.
The cheerful red box, with its peaked roof and pantry shelves, contains nonperishable and toiletry donations from the community. Printed across the glass door are these words: “Blessing Box — Take what you need. Leave what you can. Above all, be blessed.”
This box is the second of its kind in Whitehall, with the first being outside St. John’s Evangelical Lutheran Church, 835 Third St.
The group of Girl Scout Cadettes who created the project, all sixth-graders, were already thinking of ways to address the topic of food insecurity when they were Brownies, more than four years ago.
“Back before the Whitehall (Township) Public Library had official drop boxes, the troop made their own boxes and collected food items for Snack Pack Pals there,” Jennifer Harper, troop leader, said.
Snack Pack Pals is a program that provides underprivileged students with snacks and small meals to ensure they have food during weekends and extended school breaks. Last year, Snack Pack Pals gave out more than 40,000 items of food.
Recently, the girls were working on earning their aMAZE award and selected the subject of navigating social situations, where they discussed topics like bullying. Often, children who suffer from food insecurity become the subject of bullying.
“After hearing that over half of the [Whitehall-Coplay School District] student population qualifies for free or reduced-price breakfast and lunch programs, and 16 percent of the students worry about where their next meal is coming from, they wanted to do something,” Harper said.
The next step to earning their award was completing the community service project. Unlike a food drive, it had to be something sustainable. Stories about Blessing Boxes could be found in the news and across social media, and Harper and the girls decided the project would fit their topic perfectly.
The first obstacle was finding a place for the Blessing Box. During the troop’s visit to the Chick-fil-A on MacArthur Road in Whitehall to see how a business is run, owner John Velarde told the girls they could put it in front of the restaurant.
When they began researching how to make the box, they ran into a roadblock. They didn’t have the machinery or materials needed to make the box, and a pre-made one was more than $400.
Harper was able to find a bookcase made from solid wood at a local thrift shop.
That’s where Tim Enot, of the Lehigh Valley Woodworkers’ Guild, stepped in. In mid-October, three girls from the troop — Madelyn Reed, Autumn Harper and Hailey Peters — met with Enot to find out what was needed to turn the bookcase into a Blessing Box.
“They learned about woodworking, machinery and safety,” Harper said. “With his guidance, they sanded and primed the body, planed down the wood to make the frame of the door and helped with the construction of the rest of the box.”
The Scouts collected donations of nonperishable goods and toiletries from friends and family members. Harper organized a Girl Scout Zumba event and asked participants to bring an item.
The next step was spreading the word around the Whitehall area. The girls handed out fliers and explained the purpose of the Blessing Box to people attending the craft fair at St. John’s United Church of Christ, Fullerton, in addition to passing them out at school and posting information on social media.
“A Blessing Box is a great resource for the community, but only if people know about it,” Harper said.
Harper wants the community to know they can leave donations on the pantry shelf, and those who are without can take goods at any time.
“I think a lot of times people think they’re blessed when they receive,” Harper said. “The girls have felt blessed to be able to do this, and that’s a big part of what our troop does. We are not camping, crafty girls — what people think of as Girl Scouts.”
Though the holidays are a busy time for everyone, the troop is already thinking of more ways it can help.
“We try to build courage, confidence and character through our programming. Troop 6038 also has a heavy focus on community service and identifying issues in the community they’d like to change and working on ways to make it happen,” Harper said. “The girls are looking forward to starting their Silver Award project and doing just that.”
The public can help support projects like the Blessing Box by purchasing Girl Scout Cookies from the troop, starting Jan. 16, 2020.
Girls interested in joining Girl Scouts can sign up at any time.
For more information on Troop 6038 or other troops in Whitehall or Catasauqua, contact Harper, troop leader and community liaison for the River’s Edge Service Unit, at Troop6038Leader@gmail.com.