On the corner of Bedford and Station Street in Newtown in Sydney’s inner west lives hope in a small wooden cupboard. On a passing glance, it doesn’t look like it but this small wooden cupboard is responsible for feeding the souls and bellies of those who need it most.
It’s message is this: “Take what you need, leave what you can” and it’s called the Newtown Blessing Box. Three housemates, Maureen, Michelle and Joyce who live down the road from the Asylum Seekers Centre, a not-for-profit community centre, decided to create the Blessing Box in the face of new restricted hours from the centre. The idea is simple, the cupboard is left open to receive donations of items that people can afford to give; they are left to be received by those who need it. After the initial decision to start the Blessing Box, they endured two days of frantic refilling, then they called on the community to help. The community delivered, locals dropped essential items and local restaurants dropped meal vouchers.
People come by to smile, connect and read the messages, leave with a feeling of hope.
It’s even evolved into an “essential exercise” routine of passers-by, bolstering the sense of community. The profile of visitors is broad, from delivery drivers on the back end of a grueling shift, to those who have lost their jobs; right through to people who have just had a crappy day.
A big part of the picture is people who stop by to read the notes and feel less alone, appreciate their privilege and gain some perspective.
We talked to the three founders Maureen, Michelle and Joyce to understand more.
Over the past weeks we’ve seen toiletries, wine, cigarettes and most recently cat food; what’s the most unusual item you have seen received?
Condoms! They went really fast too..
The most popular?
Toilet paper (of course) and lots of chocolate. During Easter we had about 500+ chocolates come through. There’s something special in seeing how wrapped gifts of chocolate can emotionally resonate with so many people of all ages.
What’s your goal for the Blessing Box?
More Blessing Boxes around Australia and to continue after iso is over. We believe
that in a country as fortunate as Australia that nobody should ever go hungry.
Would you like to see it carry on after quarantine?
Yes, the concept is not new and works so well in other countries all year round. We’re
looking into working with the public or private sector to see if the initiative can be
transformed and sustained in the long term. The success of the Newtown Blessing Box
is that we are hyper connected in real time to the economic effects of quarantine and
daily lives of people in the inner west, we see the community, we talk to them, we listen
and we cater to their needs, the demand is there.
Maureen, Michelle and Joyce would love for anyone who can visit to do so, they’re open 24/7. Or even better, start your own Blessing Box in your community, they can help, so far they’ve helped seven other Blessing Boxes get started in Tempe, Marrickville, Petersham, Ashfield, Rockdale, Maroubra and Adelaide.