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story.lead_photo.caption John and Brittany Wade stand next to the latest Blessing Box they've installed, this one located at Cedar Hill Elementary School. The boxes contain non-perishable food items, hygiene products and other items one may not be able to afford and are free to whomever needs them. Photo by Julie Smith / News Tribune.

After hearing about the concept of a "Blessing Box," John and Brittany Wade, of Holts Summit, thought miniature food pantries would be great assets to the community.

Blessing Boxes are stocked with nonperishable food items, hygiene products, school supplies and anything else that might be considered a blessing to someone in need. Anyone in the community can donate to or retrieve items from the boxes.

John and Brittany used food pantries growing up and would have benefited from having a Blessing Box at their schools, Brittany said. Now, they have plenty of extra food and supplies, so they wanted to give back to those in need.

"I didn't know until I was older that my mom used food pantries, but, had I known, I probably would have worried about it and tried to figure out a way to somehow get food," Brittany said. "Had I had one at school, I could have brought stuff home."

After talking about it for a while, Brittany and John decided one day to finally bring their vision to life. Each box costs more than $120 for materials and supplies, so Brittany created a Facebook fundraiser to help pay for a Blessing Box, thinking they would only make one.

But the project quickly took off from there. In three hours, they raised enough money to build three. In March, they built and installed Blessing Boxes at Callaway Hills Elementary School, North Elementary School and A Place to Grow Day Care.

As they were installing one of them, Brittany joked about installing one at every school in the Jefferson City School District, knowing it was a lofty goal. But Ashley Varner, executive director of the JC Schools Foundation, pushed her to go for it.

A Blessing Box installed by John and Brittany Wade contains non-perishable food items, hygiene products and other free items. The Wades merely ask that you take only what you need and, if you have extra and wish to donate, place it in the box.

Brittany created another Facebook fundraiser, and it quickly exceeded their goal of $2,000.

"It didn't take long before it just skyrocketed," John said.

Using the money they raised, the Wades recently built and installed more Blessing Boxes at Pioneer Trail, Cedar Hill, Belair and Lawson elementary schools, and Lewis and Clark Middle School.

John said they have enough money in donations to build and install about 14 more boxes.

Their goal was to install them at every school in the Jefferson City School District, especially those that have a high percentage of students eating free or reduced-price lunches.

Capital City High School, Thomas Jefferson Middle School, South Elementary School and Southwest Early Childhood Center principals said they are interested but are still deciding on a location, Brittany said.

Two school principals declined, and she didn't receive a response from others, she said, so the Wades are interested in installing Blessing Boxes at other locations in the community.

Many people have sent the Wades food and supply donations for the Blessing Boxes, so they restock them from their shelf of donations if they notice a box could use more items.

The Wades ask that you use what you take, and if you have extra, place it in the box.

"Our mission or goal is to ensure one less person has one less meal to worry about where it's coming from," Brittany said.

The list of Blessing Boxes can be found on the Facebook group Blessing Boxes of Callaway and Cole County. For more information about donating to the Blessing Boxes or if you're interested in having a Blessing Box installed at your business, email John Wade at [email protected].

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