At a time when the world is in desperate need for tolerance and hope, such little acts of kindness go a long way.
There are still approximately 553,000 homeless people in the United States, according to the 2018 Annual Homeless Assessment Report (AHAR). While one person cannot eradicate the entire issue, that one person can still make a huge difference to individual lives around them. And that is what army veteran Roman Espinoza from Watertown, New York, did.
The 48 YO ex-combat engineer knew that there were many who went to sleep hungry and wanted to do something about it. That's when he decided to set up a mini food-pantry, known as a "Blessing Box," on his front lawn. He stocked it with food and let it stay open all day and night so that anyone who wanted food would access it and fill their hunger.
Essentially, a blessing box is one wherein anyone can donate food for those in need, and it is open 24/7 so that the hungry don't have to starve. "Whether you're taking or giving, you can just go to the blessing box," Roman told CNN when he first set up the box in 2017. "There's not a lock on it — it's open 24 hours a day, seven days a week."
So how did he come up with the idea? Two years ago, when he was attending classes and doing research at a local community college, he found a pantry set up by the college for those who were in need. "I was like 'wow, I did not know that colleges have food pantries,'" he told Good Housekeeping, "I just assumed that if you could afford to go to school, then you could afford to eat."
Inspiration struck when a nightly news segment on NBC News reported this idea. He then built his own blessing box, spurred on by encouragement from his professors and community. The first time it was filled up, Roman stuffed it with canned goods but after that, he hasn't had to make much effort. People from the Watertown community brought in food from different parts of the town.
"All in all, it's sustained by the community, and it's used by the community," Espinoza said. "There's no age limit; there's no paperwork. We will not take any monetary donations. And next time, when you're doing a little better, you can come drop some things off in return."
Now, the box has more than just food in it. Roman mentioned to CNN that they are trying to leave items that "make sense." He explains, "We try and put stuff in there that makes sense — toothpaste, toothbrushes, band-aids....some soap and shampoo."
While he understands it's just a short-term solution to a longstanding problem, it's better than nothing. And it's there if they need it, "just in case," he said to Good Housekeeping, "so kids and adults don't go hungry. Nobody should feel embarrassed because we all need a little help."
Having been brought up in poverty, Roman knows the pain of not having enough resources for yourself or your loved ones. "We had local churches who would sometimes leave Christmas presents on our steps because they knew we couldn't afford to buy them," he recalled. "Sometimes we didn't have three meals a day. I know what it's like to go without a meal — millions of people on this earth know what it's like. You have to give back to the community and people who supported you."
Kindness almost always has a domino effect. Roman has now gotten two orders from people in the community to help set up more blessing boxes in their own yard. "I've gotten a couple of requests from people around town for boxes for their property," he said. "With any luck, we'll have a few around town where people can be made aware of them and make use of them."
More such blessing boxes are being set up across the country. They come in all different shapes and sizes — much like love. And the concept is the same—Take what you need, leave what you can.