Youth group at Manito parish opens a ‘Blessing Box’ to serve area needy 24/7

Immaculate Conception Parish youth group members pose with the Blessing Box which they helped design and will keep filled with items for free distribution to the needy of the Manito area. From left, the youth are Mary Kate Figge, Samantha Masalana, Josie Woodley Alyssa Sondag, and Jameson Woodley. (The Catholic Post/Tom Dermody)

MANITO — After a Sunday Mass at which Jesus was proclaimed as the “Bread of Life,” Immaculate Conception Parish here stocked and dedicated an outdoor “Blessing Box” to freely share food and some of life’s other physical necessities with those in need.

“We pray that all who seek love and assistance here may find (Christ) and be filled with (his) joy and peace,” said Father David Whiteside, pastor, before sprinkling holy water Aug. 5 on the newly built project spearheaded by the parish’s youth group.

Youth group members from Immaculate Conception Parish in Manito pull a wagon filled with food, hygiene items and school supplies as a procession makes its way to an outdoor Blessing Box the group filled for the first time following Sunday Mass on Aug. 5. (The Catholic Post/Tom Dermody)

The ceremonies began with a procession from the church to the Blessing Box site on parish grounds, highly visible to passersby on Adams Street, this Mason County community’s main road.  Near the front of the procession, youth group members pulled a wagon filled with items ranging from juice boxes and canned goods to hygiene and school supplies.

“In his great love for all of us, Christ said that whatever we do for the least among us we do for him,” said Father Whiteside during the outdoor prayer service. After a series of petitions, parishioners — who had gathered in a semi-circle in front of the Blessing Box — responded “Lord, teach us to serve our sisters and brothers.”

Following the blessing, the box’s safety glass doors were opened and youth group members filled the 3-foot-wide raised receptacle with the donated goods. They will refill it after every Sunday Mass, keeping track of what has been taken to gauge what is most needed.

DESIGN RESEMBLES CHURCH

“It came out so much better than we imagined,” said Gloria Lovelace, parish youth group director. And the youth group, known as Journey in Faith, had imagined the Blessing Box for months, taking on the project last fall and seeing it through to its completion this summer.

The teens began by researching the Blessing Box idea, inspired by Matthew 25:35: “I was hungry and you gave me something to eat.” Mindful that area food pantries have set hours, the youth wanted to offer a site where goods could be picked up around-the-clock, seven days a week.

The high schoolers came up with a design and even a succession plan so that the project will continue when they age out of the group.

Father David Whiteside, pastor, sprinkles holy water on the Blessing Box on the grounds of Immaculate Conception Church in Manito. Youth group members then filled it with food, hygiene supplies, and school-related items to be offered freely to those in need. (The Catholic Post/Tom Dermody)

“It was amazing,” said youth group member Mary Kate Figge of the process leading to last Sunday’s celebration. Earlier this year, she had produced a PowerPoint presentation detailing the Blessing Box plans for Father Whiteside, who in turn requested it be shown at church to enlist the prayers and help of the whole parish.

“Almost all of the materials we used were left over from the building of the church (in 2015),” explained Figge, a recent high school graduate who begins college at Iowa State University this fall. The box’s 3-foot pedestal is made from bricks used for the church exterior. The sides of the box have siding found in the church interior. Other items were donated, such as roofing tiles and landscape pavers that form a walkway to the Blessing Box from the parking lot.

The box resembles the new church in other ways, including its pitched roof and even a miniature version of the church’s large, circular stained glass window depicting the Holy Spirit.

SPIRITUAL ENCOURAGEMENT, TOO

The youth group was assisted in construction by a group of parishioners including Deacon Bob Sondag, who operates a woodworking shop, his wife Theresa, as well as Tim Hill, Dean Wilson, and Stan Embry.

Parishioners gather around the Blessing Box as Father David Whiteside, pastor, presides at dedication ceremonies Aug. 5 for the youth group project at Immaculate Conception Church in Manito. (The Catholic Post/Tom Dermody)

“The kids did all the thinking,” said Deacon Sondag, including recommending that the Blessing Box be lit at night.

“They realized some people will want to come at night when no one is around,” said Lovelace.

At Father Whiteside’s request, each item in the box will have a sticker with a Bible verse or other inspirational message to encourage the visitors, let them know they’re loved, and “maybe bring them to Christ,” said Lovelace.

Other nearby churches have been invited to join Immaculate Conception parishioners in sharing their blessings by donating non-perishable items for the Blessing Box or funds to purchase them. But those items should be placed in a plastic bin in the church narthex, not directly in the box, so that the youth group can keep track of what is being taken.

“For a while I was worried it wasn’t going to get done before I graduated,” said Figge. “This is the last youth group project I got to do. It’s awesome.”

EDITOR’S NOTE: More photos from the Blessing Box dedication ceremonies have been posted to The Catholic Post’s site on Facebook. 

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