The Rothes Blessing box is a food cupboard and a symbol of a powerful shift that is happening in our communities as a result of this pandemic. In it, packed with larder essentials, is also everything we ever need to know about community kindness and action.
A free, tiny community larder, for folk struggling to get food items and a repository for those who can, to give items and goodwill. Hand painted lovingly upon it, reads: Take want you need; leave want you can. Be blessed. Now, thanks to it, the concept is expanding to other parts of Moray, doubling the blessings this box is already making.
The Rothes blessing box was created by local resident Stephanie Walby who says the idea came from talking with Reverend Bob Anderson from the Moray Kirk, Rothes, Knockando and Archiestown Parish. When lockdown began, she says ‘I knew I wanted to do something, something more immediate. I knew there would be a need with people not working or no money coming in or waiting for Universal Credit.’ So, with Reverend Anderson’s idea, she got to building it straight away.
Stephanie is softly spoken and a careful listener but no stranger when it comes to doing things that need to get done. For the last few years, she has also been the energy, joy, and strength behind Rothes’ Community Christmas Lunch -- A Very Moray Community Christmas.
For this new endeavour, Stephanie had already sourced a good supply of food donations that were taken in and stored at the local East Bank Hotel. She bought an old kitchen cupboard, received a donation of some roofing felt for its top and in a couple of days, ‘just knocked it together.’
Five weeks on, the blessing box has become a community fixture. ‘There has been a continual flow of people since it started. It is being used really well. It’s something that will continue… it’s going to stay there for sure”, says Stephanie. The box sits in harmony within the community because it comes from it. On social media, local people ask about where to find the now illusive items like flour. “Check the blessing box people reply”, and this, says Stephanie, is how she knows it has become something significant in the community.
Stephanie manages the box and its contents, and right from the start, because of her community connections, she has been able to continue to source the most useful or hard to get items like toilet paper. The box has items that people need and it can deliver on that need quickly. The Box has received funds secured by Speyside Community Council through the Scottish Government’s Covid-19 Supporting Communities Fund, administered by Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE). This money will be used to top up items when needed and to help in the coming months if people cannot be so generous with donations. Stephanie has noticed items that can be used for a ‘proper meal’ such as canned meat and cans of curry are in higher demand just now.
Asked why she thinks the idea has worked, Stephanie answers in knowing reflection. ‘It’s anonymous… and people can choose what they want and that feels different, it feels like going to a shop. You are never quite sure when you start something like this if people will respond… if it will take off. I know how difficult it is to ask for help’. Yet, at the same time Stephanie also knows how important it is to fulfill the need we all have to help others and this is why she says it also works. ‘You feel nice to be able to give…so you can put in, swap stuff. One week you can put in and another week you might need it’.
Others are taking inspiration from Rothes’ example. tsiMORAY’s post about the Box being open was one of our highest ever engagements. A couple of weeks later, our Speyside community development officer got back in touch with Stephanie to say the Burghead & Cummingston Community Council wanted to find out how this could be done, and the connection was made. ‘It’s in its early stages but I told them how I set it up’, she says. Stephanie also tells us of another blessing box now operating out of an old red telephone booth in Carron and she says she thinks social media and Reverend Anderson has helped grow it there too. She has also heard that Tomintoul has a community larder operating in much the same fashion.
Stephanie says Rothes’ response to the crisis has been ‘amazing’. Stephanie tells us about a new book drop and jigsaw exchange that has been set up under cover in the garden of the Seafield Arms. ‘The library van doesn’t come anymore and books… jigsaws… that’s what people are doing now. It’s important.’
In the complicated times we now live in, Stephanie sees the power of simplicity. ‘People have asked what can we do? The blessing box is so do-able and they’re going ahead and they’re doing it.’