STARK COUNTY, Ohio — A Stark County woman is on a mission to address food insecurity in her community.
She created an anonymous food pantry that’s hyperlocal and helping residents get by during these tough times.
She says her mission was God-sent, and now she’s serving her neighbors while helping to build a sense of community, and “A Better Land."
Rain or shine, Maiharriese Wooden says she’s got a job to do.
“God gave me this idea and said, ‘You can do this,’" said Wooden.
“Take what you need—leave what you can" — it’s the motto etched on all 16 of her “Blessing Boxes.”
They’re set up all around Stark County and they’re filled with non-perishable food items, household items, and personal hygiene products for people to take free of charge.
Maiharriese comes several times a week to stock many of these boxes, and so do volunteers who have adopted this project.
“It grew really fast because there was a great need for these little cabinets to just help people with a little bit of something to help them get by, maybe until their next paycheck,” said Wooden.
She created her first Blessing Box more than a year and a half ago, just prior to the pandemic.
“I created them because I remember a time when I lost my job," Wooden said. "I had to have a major surgery and when I was down, I had to ask for help.”
The need for these Blessing Boxes quickly became very apparent and desired. As the initiative grew, so did the hearts of those who live in Stark County, with volunteers helping to build the boxes and restock them.
“There were people who were going to pantries, who would call me and say, ‘Look, I went to the pantry and they gave me stuff that I don’t need, but I know somebody needs it. Can I give it to you?’” Wooden said.
Blessing Box #2 sits right outside Beacon Academy in Canton.
“Ever since it’s been out there, it’s been a huge hit. It’s very popular. It's the most popular box in this area. If we fill it in the morning, it’s empty by 4, 5 o’clock,” said Beacon’s principal, Cami Lewis.
Lewis says not only do her students benefit from being able to take home items from the box, they also take responsibility for helping to fill it.
“If the box is empty, the kids will come inside and say, Ms. Lewis, we have to get food in the box! There are kids who are going to be hungry today!” said Lewis.
“It makes everything anonymous, which I think a lot of people prefer,” said Carissa Keller. She and her family are volunteers who visit another box several times a week to fill it.
“There’s really no reason for anyone to go without when we have enough to share. The blessing box is just a very easy way to do that,” said Keller.
“I feel that I was doing what God told me to do. They were meant to be here and they do a thing that is called building a community,” said Wooden.
Maiharrise tells News 5 that she recently got a call to expand her Blessing Box Initiative to Cleveland.
She says despite the small budget she has for this project, she’s planning to add on to Cleveland.
To find out more about how you can contribute, and where these boxes are located, visit The Stark Blessing Box Initiative site here.
This story is part of A Better Land, an ongoing series that investigates Northeast Ohio's deep-seated systemic problems. Additionally, it puts a spotlight on the community heroes fighting for positive change in Cleveland and throughout the region. If you have an idea for A Better Land story, tell us here.