Gr8 Neighbor: Hammond high school student launches blessing boxes

Hammond high school student Garrett Sanders, next to one of 2 blessing boxes he built and...
Hammond high school student Garrett Sanders, next to one of 2 blessing boxes he built and oversees in Hammond
Updated: Feb. 11, 2019 at 9:38 PM CST
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NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - A Hammond high school student is giving back to the community, one blessing at a time, and he’s hoping it will have a ripple effect across the state.

From bake sales to food and school supply drives to raising money to buy Christmas gifts for the needy, Garrett Sanders has done a lot of make a difference in his community. The junior at Hammond High Magnet School is all about service and leadership in the 4-H program.

“Words cannot express how proud his father and I are of him,” said his mother, Dawn Culbreath.

But his most recent feat is truly a blessing. It is a mini-pantry of sorts called a blessing box, filled with non-perishable food and personal care items for people in need.

It's open all day, every day.

The premise behind it is simple: Take what you need, leave what you can, and above all, be blessed.

“So if you walk by and you need some Vienna sausage to eat you can take it,” Sanders said. “But if you are a little more privileged than some and you walk by and see other people need something, you can drop something in here.”

So far, Sanders, with the help of his parents, has built two blessing boxes. One sits right outside the courthouse in Hammond. The other is just outside the city’s recreation center.

“It just makes a great impact on the community. Some people can’t afford to eat. They don’t know where their next meal is coming from,” Sanders said. “This just kind of reassures them that they do have something to eat tonight.”

Sanders is in charge of re-stocking the boxes once a week if supplies run low. His mom helps him shop.

“If it’s completely empty, it costs $50 to fill it up at the Dollar Tree,” Culbreath said. “That’s for one box.”

Community-supported pantries like these have popped up all over the country. The belief is they’ve grown in popularity because of their simple concept, and because they’re spreading though social media.

Hammond city employees love the idea.

“The court system has a jar that they put money into, and when it gets to $25, they go buy some canned goods to put in the box and replenish it,” said Hammond Mayor Pete Panepinto.

The mayor said as it turns out, there’s a lot of interest across the state and the country.

“A citizen from Oklahoma called and asked about plans. They’re thinking about doing it in Oklahoma,” Panepinto said. “Also, at Nicholls State University, a fraternity said they would like to do it in their city. Some folks in Ponchatoula are looking at sponsoring spots, Texas A&M as well.”

Sanders has a cooperative endeavor with the city but would like to see more blessing boxes around the parish and the state.

Each box costs about $150 to build, which is why Sanders welcomes donations and is looking for businesses interested in sponsoring a blessing box outside their establishment.

“I’m really proud of Garrett and what he’s doing, his efforts to help folks out,” said Mayor Panepinto.

Garrett Sanders: A Gr8 Neighbor, reminding us that blessings come all in shapes and sizes.

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