Little Boxes

This is Marty. He’s our Parks foreman, and he makes lots of things for the city; from metal sign frames, to custom plows, to fake pirate cannons for our events. You may have noticed a more recent project of his in a few places in the City. Recently Marty built little boxes and installed them in a few locations.

The project began when Marty heard a story from a community out west that they had put boxes up in areas where there was an active homeless community. In the box, they placed whatever the homeless indicated they needed. Pencils and writing paper were also left inside the box so individuals could share what they needed. Marty decided to try the idea in Burlington last March.

He reached out to YouthBuild, a national program run locally by ReSource that provides 16-24-year-old youth with an opportunity to earn their diploma, trade certifications, and an AmeriCorps Education Award, while learning construction skills. YouthBuild built a box for him. The box went up in an area where there is an active homeless encampment and the parks crew visits on a regular Basis.

They got a lot of requests. Marty told me, “Some we could meet and others we couldn’t. The items we put in the box ranged from shoes, socks, all types of clothing, first aid kits, bug spray, trash bags and even a pair of eye glasses.” It was a success, with 95% of the comments left being positive.

When he wanted to expand the outreach with the boxes, Marty again contacted YouthBuild and they were very willing to build two more boxes. They were installed in December. As you can imagine, the most requested items in the wintertime are hats, mittens, and coats. Marty checks the boxes as part of his visits to the parks three times each week.

When asked where he gets the items he places in the boxes, Marty replied that he first reached out to folks in his church, and WOW did he get a great response. The people of the Church of the Rock in St. Albans continue to be very generous with their donations of hats, gloves, socks, and scarves. He also contacted several churches, synagogues and a mosque to pass along the word and locations of the boxes. He now finds that random Burlington residents are regularly putting books, cereals, cans of soup, and other items in the boxes. In addition to hard goods, he also now adds directories for area services and schedules for available hot meals, showers and shelters.

The good work seems to be spreading! A Burlington police officer, Brian DiFranco, attends the same church as Marty and he is planning to place similar boxes in the St. Albans community.

Thanks Marty for ALL that you do for the community! And thanks to the community members that help support this effort!

Article is courtesy of our director Cindi Wight, and was originally published by the Vermont Recreation & Parks Association (VRPA Advocate Newsletter, Issue 90, Winter 2018)