A Fort Gibson man says churches can help people round the clock with serve-yourself food and staple pantries.

Jason McLaughlin, a bus driver and substitute teacher, recently set up such a box at Fort Gibson's First United Methodist Church. He said the wooden cabinet stores canned food, hygiene items, bathroom staples and other items people might need. People can leave items as they pick up others.

McLaughlin said he got the idea after seeing a story online about such a cabinet in Arkansas. He said he built one with help from his children and students in the Fort Gibson High School robotics program. 

He said he visited places in Fort Gibson before First United Methodist agreed to have one installed outside. The church operates a community food pantry, which is open during church hours.

Church trustee Mike Baker said its cabinet, called a Blessing Box, has been up for a couple of months.

He said some people were skeptical about the box at first. However, he said he is amazed at how well church members have responded to the box.

"There are times when it is empty, then it is full again," Baker said. "People just participate and fill it up."

Similar cabinets have shown up around the Muskogee area. People can pick up and supply canned goods to a Pantry on Peak, 108 E. Peak Blvd.

The Rev. Dawn Richards, Fort Gibson United Methodist Church pastor, said she knows of several Oklahoma churches with similar programs. She referred to an article in the United Methodist "Contact" newspaper about churches around Tonkawa that set up Blessing Boxes.

Richards said she sees how a Blessing Box can help the community.

"There are a lot of people out there dealing with food scarcity," she said. "This is a way for them to find food."

Richards, who came to Fort Gibson earlier this month, said food scarcity occurs when people cannot afford nutritious food.

"Often, people living in poverty can only buy food that is high in carbohydrates or low in nutritional value," she said.

However, McLaughlin, who attends Crescent Valley Baptist Church, said the boxes can include more than food. He suggested diapers, soap, hair brushes, shampoo, baby wipes, feminine hygiene products, toothpaste and toothbrushes.

"Everyone's at a time in their life, at the end of the month, and they're scraping by," McLaughlin said.

Reach Cathy Spaulding at (918) 684-2928 or cspaulding@muskogeephoenix.com.

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