In the corner of the parking lot at Wynola Pizza and Bistro in Julian, is a reason local residents in the mountain community of 4,000 will never have to go hungry.
Resident Heather Rowell learned of the Blessing Box idea and wanted to act. Started in Lafayetteville, Arkansas two years ago, neighbors could help neighbors with a community food pantry, anonymously. The idea works on the honor system; folks put food staples in, those in need take food out.
Harry and Sabina Horner, owners of the pizza place, offered their parking lot on Highway 78 west of town to place the box. The Julian-Cuyamaca Fire Department’s Battalion Chief Mike Van Bobber got his department to help assemble and install the box. The department’s firefighters hold food drives and fundraising dinners. Local high school students, who need service hours, show up occasionally and reorganize the box’s food shelves.
Currently there are no businesses giving funds to purchase food. When those who live in Julian go down the hill to Ramona or El Cajon for major grocery shopping, they’ll buy a little extra for the box.
“There were haters in the beginning,” Rowell said. What if someone steals everything, some asked? “Its free food. Nobody can ‘steal’ something that’s free. If they take it, they need it.” The only time the cupboard almost went bare was during a three-day power outage throughout town. “We were down to a few bags of beans, but its never been empty,” she said.
“The community totally owns this,” said Rowell. When the box blew over in a hard wind, or hinges broke, it was posted on the box’s Facebook page. “Someone will just fix it,” she said.
There are some guidelines – no medicines, alcohol, knives, or clothes. The bottom shelf allows for sharing of books.
There’s an unwritten protocol. If someone’s already at the box, one shouldn’t approach. That way, anonymity continues, not knowing if the person leaving or taking.
Rowell says the food that goes over best is pre-packaged, microwaveable food. A woman she knows of lives in her truck with three kids. “She doesn’t have a kitchen, but the local gas station lets her heat up food in their microwave.”
For the next fire department dinner fundraiser on January 20, attendees are asked bring food for the box. Rowell is seeking a second Blessing Box in another part of town