‘Blessing box’ aid for homeless in Bemidji in peril

A gift shop in Bemidji, Minn., that raised money for the poor of Eastern Uganda is closing, and that’s bad news for the homeless of Bemidji.

The Least of These moved to its downtown location a year ago and Jenn Anderson noticed that some boxes in the loading dock were regularly moved, suggesting someone was sleeping there.

“It really broke our hearts, because it was so cold out,” she tells the Bemidji Pioneer.

So she did something about it.

As Bemidji temperatures plummeted, the store’s employees decided to create what they call a “blessing box” to help the people sleeping on the loading dock stay warm. Anderson posted on Facebook asking for donations of blankets, socks, hats, mittens and easy-to-eat food, which she then packed into a plastic tote to leave behind the building.

“We had a huge, a tremendous outpouring from the community, where people started to bring in all those items,” Anderson said. “Since then, it’s been used every day.”

Since the box came to be about a year ago, Anderson and other workers at the store have gotten to know the homeless community members using the box. The Least of These has become their first stop in mornings after leaving local shelters, Anderson said, and they often depend on the food left in the box for breakfast.

“We’ve been really blessed, because the people who are using the blessing box have actually come in many times to thank us for it,” she said. “We’ve gotten to know a lot of the men and women who are using the box back there.”

There were at least five “regulars” who stopped by every day to say “thank you,” the paper says.

But they’ll be on their own now.

The store is closing.

It wasn’t making the money it wanted to in its mission to help build a school in Uganda and sponsor children there.

“We just don’t want to see this need go unmet,” Anderson said. “We really are hoping that somebody will see this and decide that it’s something they can take on.”