PIPESTONE — MonaLisa Raschke says she's always telling people, "Be the one that makes a difference."

It's a motto she personally embodies, as shown by her recent efforts to create "blessing boxes" around town.

Raschke moved to Pipestone about a year ago to marry a local farmer. Her former church in her Arkansas town had started a blessing box at the city park, and Raschke brought the idea to Pipestone with her.

Similar to a neighborhood "little free library," a blessing box is a lofted cabinet stocked with needed goods like non-perishable food and personal hygiene supplies, open 24/7 to all who need the items — no questions asked.

"I really enjoy helping the less fortunate," said Raschke, a gifted cook who has made a habit of feeding the hungry.

The new project is a way for the whole community to get involved, Raschke said. Anyone can donate food, toiletries like shampoo and toothbrushes and even infant supplies such as diapers and wipes. What's most practical will differ depending on the season, Raschke noted, as the wooden box will not be heated, cooled or insulated. For example, summer months could include fresh produce from the community garden, and winter months could offer soups and hot drink mixes.

"It's not necessarily just for the homeless, but for the kids," said Raschke, who expressed concern about single parents who work hard to get food on the table, and kids who may go hungry despite best parental efforts.

Raschke took her idea to the Pipestone City Council Monday evening, asking for use of a small space in a city park to erect a blessing box.

Council member Dan Delaney aired concerns of potential liability issues with having it on public property, suggesting that private property be used for the blessing box locations. After some discussion, Raschke reported, the council voted to table the item until the next meeting on Nov. 18.

"Yeah, there's probably a liability," Raschke admitted, "but that's a risk we have to take."

Raschke said that while it would be possible for someone to tamper with food items, she hasn't seen that happen before. She added that each blessing box will include a disclaimer that no one person or entity is responsible for the donated food.

In the meantime, the Pipestone community has risen to bolster her efforts.

"I've had a lot of positive support," Raschke said of her neighbors.

Darl and Amy Korthals agreed to have one blessing box on their property at 608 Fourth Ave. SW. Although Raschke believes that generally a residential locale may deter people from using a blessing box, she noted that the Korthalses' home is in an ideal location near the main part of town.

"The more people help each other, it just makes a better town," Amy Korthals said. "People just need a little extra help sometimes."

Korthals added that the local food shelf is only open three hours per week, and not everyone can make those hours work. With the added option of a blessing box, folks can come whenever is convenient for them, don't have to talk about their situation with anyone and can grab just as much as they need.

Al VanBemmel of Lake Benton designed and built the first blessing box, and local children helped decorate it. The box is about the size of a refrigerator, Raschke said. It was installed on the Korthalses' property and stocked with already-donated supplies Sunday night.

The first blessing box was installed over the weekend. (Submitted photo)
The first blessing box was installed over the weekend. (Submitted photo)

Pipestone's Progress Inc. has agreed to host a second blessing box. Raschke has already raised funds to buy the materials, and a woodworking class at Pipestone Area Schools will provide the labor.

"If we're not teaching our kids to give, what are we teaching them?" Raschke asked.

The goal is to eventually have four blessing boxes around Pipestone, Raschke said.

"It may seem small, but to a lot of people, it's something big," she noted.

Anyone wishing to donate supplies may either place them in an existing blessing box, or, if there is no space, bring donation items to Raschke or to Progress Inc.

Suggested winter donations include hand warmers, hats and gloves, socks, scarves, cough drops and lip balm. Raschke is also working to compile a list of food items that won't freeze. On the list so far are granola bars, peanut butter, crackers, oatmeal packets, Ramen noodles, soup packets, hot chocolate and pasta boxes.

For more questions or to get involved in the project, contact Raschke at (507) 215-3038.