Blessing Boxes stocked with nourishing, nonperishable food items have been helping Westside Indianapolis residents during the COVID-19 shutdown. Neighborhood initiator Debbie Parish reports, “The blessing boxes have been very successful.”.
“The most exciting thing is a lot of groups and churches are now having blessing boxes built. The miracle is we have so many people that support them that there are lists on Facebook of where to find the boxes. The list is not just for those that need the food, but it is also for people to donate to the boxes close to them.”
Parish keeps a watch on what is happening.
“What I’m seeing is a lot of families that get the meals from schools and pantries, will put what their children don’t like in the boxes, and switch out” she reports. “Several people donate to several boxes. The box in my neighborhood is filled several times a week. In between, my family has a pantry of food for the box [if we see it is running low].
“The boxes have cut down on food waste because instead of throwing away snacks that we buy at the store that our kids just had to have, we can put it in the box.”
Residents also are sharing clothes, blankets and personal items, notes Parish.
“It does a lot more than what I thought it would. I was filling the box, and a homeless man came up and asked if I was the one that took care of the box. He started crying when I said yes. He said we kept him alive for the last year. He has been camping close to the neighborhood and comes and gets food. In the neighborhoods that have the boxes petty theft is way down. People do not have to steal if they have a way to get food. There is no limit to what the boxes can do.”
The blessing boxes add to what Parish has been organizing as a neighbors-help-neighbors concept, centered on the development of a volunteer-run community site named Shelton Park.
“This was our fourth year of having a school supply give away. With a very generous donation from Aaron’s Rentals to the park and the Crime Watch, we were able to assemble 150 bags with school supplies. We did a drive through, but unfortunately, we had over 300 hundred cars show up for 150 bags. We ran out in fourteen minutes.”
This experience led Parish and her corps of volunteers to initiate “a much better way to give away another 50 bags the next weekend. This time I had people register for them,” she reports. “This way we got to meet the community and find out their needs. Several of those families stay in contact with me and when I get perishable foods, I contact them and they come and get the food. A lot of the volunteers that helped me with the drive-through loved it and are already collecting supplies for next year. We had both very young and older volunteers say it was great and they want to volunteer for other park events.”
This report led to a Q&A email exchange:
RITA KOHN: How did you manage to get the park into good shape with COVID-19 shut down?
DEBBIE PARISH: COVID made some things more difficult because I had to cancel all events. We could not do the Easter Egg Hunt, The Great Indy CleanUp and all other volunteer workdays. Myself, my son and other park board members did the clean up ourselves, being socially distant. We had money in our budget to hire a company to mow the grass and keep it looking beautiful. The good thing through the covid shutdown is that we did not close the park. It is a private park and not city run. We have 2.4 acres so there was plenty of room to social distance. Families would still come and use the park grill and tables and have picnics. People walked our trail to enjoy the outdoors.
We did win two Art and Seek Grants. For the smaller grant an artist made colorful big caterpillars and hung them in the trees so the kids could have fun looking for them. The big Art and Seek project will be installed next Spring; it will have solar lighting so the park will have light at night. Next Spring will be exciting. We should have all permits that we need and start building swings and other things in the park. We are hoping to finally have the official ribbon cutting. It was the crime ridden trailer park that we turned into a beautiful green space/park.
The thing about our neighborhood is that it wasn’t special. It was a quiet neighborhood with middle to low income residents just trying to get by. When our years of peace came to an end when the trailer park became abandoned and we were living in a war zone, we came together. That made us special. It was a snowball effect. We got the trailer park down and started planning the park that put hope back to the area. People came together. It is more than a park. It’s a miracle.
KOHN: What now is happening?
PARISH: The Third Annual Trick or Treat Hike on Oct. 31, from 2-4:30 p.m., at 3844 Rockville Ave. will probably be the last big event in the park until Spring.
But we will still keep the Blessing Box and the little library full through the winter. The board is also talking about taking leftover budget money to help residents with Christmas. It may be something small but we are going to try.
I believe the kids benefit from seeing the community come together and actually being a community. My inspiration for this event is that when I was a kid in this neighborhood everyone went way out for Halloween. Almost all the houses were decorated and gave out candy. I can remember every Halloween. In the 90s people quit celebrating Halloween. I wanted to bring that back. Meeting the elected officials is an added bonus for the kids. Political officials never came around when I was a kid. I didn’t know what to think of them. They were just people I saw on TV. Now the kids can get an idea of how the government works. They get to see them as real people. They can ask questions and be involved. It is not a political forum; it is a very low key opportunity to meet the people you will be voting for. This gives the candidates and officials a chance to meet who they are representing. It brings politics down to earth.
One of the reasons for the event is not only to have fun but to bring resources and education to everyone. I will have several groups that will be offering resources to families. I think it’s a win, win situation.
My hope is that when one of these kids grows up, they will be inspired to get their community together. It’s not as hard as everyone thinks. When people see improvement and positive action they want to be a part of it.
When I first started talking about taking the property and making a park I was laughed at a lot. Now we are getting it done we have a lot of support from the community. Miracles have happened.
We will be following all COVID Guidelines. Our park is big enough so each table will be set 12 feet apart. Gloves and masks will be used. I have put out a challenge to a lot of the people setting up tables to come up with some cool way to give out candy without getting close to the kids. They will be using things like PBC pipe and other things. I can’t wait to see what they come up with. A lot of the people that set up tables take it very seriously and try to out-do each other. It’s great. Not only the kids have a good time. Everybody is a kid that day.