Blessing barn provides food for those in need
By Lindsay Peyton
It started as a simple cabinet. Stocked with nonperishables, and installed outside of Holly Springs UMC in Martin’s Mill, the Blessing Box soon offered food to neighbors in need. Then, it continued to grow – and with a recent Innovation Grant from the Texas Annual Conference, the blessings continue to multiply.
The Blessing Box ministry started shortly before Rev. Erin Muckleroy was appointed to Holly Springs UMC in 2020. “Right around the beginning of COVID, the church wanted to do something to help their neighbors,” she explained.
The Blessing Box was installed in the congregation’s tabernacle. “It was available 24/7,” Muckleroy said. “The whole theme is give what you can. Take what you need.”
The anonymity offered is crucial, the pastor added. “No one should feel shame for needing something,” she said. “We want to preserve the dignity people who receive from it.”
Muckleroy explained that the town of Martin’s Mill is a food desert – an area with little access to affordable food for those in need. There are no grocery stores in town, with only a gas station instead.
Holly Springs UMC works with area food pantries to provide fresh produce in the Blessing Box. Church members who garden often donate their extra harvest. A mini-fridge was also installed near the Box for cheese, milk and eggs.
The church takes an offering each week to help keep the Blessing Box stocked. Member Carol Abbott serves as the point person for the project. “She’s done an absolutely outstanding job,” Muckleroy said. “She has a heart of gold, a servant’s heart. And I’m grateful she’s in my congregation.”
Abbott keeps a stockroom in the church to refill the Blessing Box as needed. She goes shopping for needed items. Church members also donate goods.
Other items were added to the original cabinet over time. For instance, church members wanted to give coats one winter, so a zip-up wardrobe was installed by the Blessing Box. Ever since, clothing has become a regular offering.
Next, a Little Free Library was added to the tabernacle. Bibles and devotionals were included. “It has just grown and grown,” Muckleroy said. “It’s a true act of generosity.”
And still, the congregation asked, “What if we could go bigger and provide even more?”
Muckleroy discovered that the Texas Annual Conference was offering an Innovation Grant to congregations to expand outreach in creative ways. She attended the Conference’s Innovation Lab held last March in Kilgore to learn more.
Holly Springs decided to apply for a grant. Muckleroy received a call in May from Rev. Morris Matthis, Director of the Center for Leadership Formation, who leads the Conference’s Innovation Team. He announced that the congregation would receive $7,000.
Muckleroy said she was beyond excited to get the news. A subcommittee formed at the church to determine the best use of the funds. “We wanted to make sure the money was used to the best possible ability, to make sure we get exactly what we need,” the pastor said.
The subcommittee decided to purchase a storage shed from a local company, outfit it with shelving, a full refrigerator and motion lights.
The next task was choosing a location. Volunteers took the dimensions of the shed and used garden stakes and yarn to outline possible locations on the church’s campus. Muckleroy asked them to walk to each space and pray. “God will show us where it should go so we can feed His people,” she added.
The completed structure was recently installed. Muckleroy said that the Innovation Grant made it all possible. “We wouldn’t have been able to do it otherwise,” she said. “It really did help us dream a little bigger.”
The name is still to be determined, but, in the meantime, church members refer to it as the “Blessing Barn.” The ministry has unified the entire congregation. “This has been a project that has really rallied our church. It’s something everyone looks forward to,” Muckleroy said.
Sometimes, the congregation receives thank you notes left in the box. There have been times that people attend church events and say, “We’ve had times of struggle and used your Blessing Box.”
“You’re just putting it out there and hoping it meets the needs of the people who need it most,” Muckleroy said.
And the Blessing Box has already been the spark to kindle new relationships. “This is a baby step,” Muckleroy said. “We ask, ‘Do you need some food? But do you need community too?’ Because we can do that. We’re introducing people to the church. It’s not a forced thing. We truly want it to be an invitation.”
The Blessing Barn reflects the mission of the church. “Our church really wants to help those who might be struggling who live in their neighborhood,” Muckleroy said. “We just want to love our neighbor. And this congregation loves in big ways.”