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Blessings come in a box

When Amber Anne Bergeron, of Sontag, was given a college assignment recently to help a community, she knew exactly what she wanted to do.

As an occupational therapy student at Holmes Community College, Bergeron was placed in a group of four students with instruction to create and implement a sustainable community project. Bergeron conceived the idea of a “Blessing Box.”

With some help from her boyfriend Kevin Nettles and some materials from a house they are remodeling, Bergeron constructed a box to hold non-perishable food and household items to be offered freely to members of the community who are in need. She contacted the Heucks Retreat Volunteer Fire Department through a friend who got her in touch with VFD president Marcus “Gizmo” Caffie, who in turn connected her with the VFD chief, Joe Honea.

After sharing her idea with other members of the VFD, Honea got back in touch with her.

“Within about 24 hours, he called me back and said, ‘Yeah. Go for it,’” Bergeron said.

The only restriction Honea gave her, she said, was where the box needed to be placed to be out of the way of fire fighters and equipment, yet still easily accessible to the public.

The box is labeled as the Heucks Retreat Volunteer Fire Department Blessing Box. The signage also reads, “Take what you need. Leave what you can. Above all be blessed!”

The goal of occupational therapy, Bergeron says, is to use purposeful activities to achieve rehabilitation for individuals in daily living skills, independence and autonomy, following a physical or psychological injury or disorder.

“For example, for a person who has lost a limb and now has a prosthetic limb, we might teach them how to cook or fold laundry again using the new limb,” she said.

Bergeron is in her second and final year in the occupational therapy program at Holmes. She and the other members of her group will graduate in May. Bergeron, a graduate of Lawrence County High School, has also completed other degrees. She has an associate’s degree in human performance and recreation from Copiah-Lincoln Community College and a bachelor of science in exercise science, with a minor in psychology, from the University of Southern Mississippi. She is working on her field work at Silver Cross Health and Rehabilitation Center in Brookhaven as one of the final components of her associate’s degree in occupational therapy.

The drive to be an occupational therapist did not come from an interest she picked up in her post-high school education, but is rooted further back in her life and deeper in her heart. When she was in sixth grade, her twin sister was diagnosed with encephalitis. Through that year and the next, Bergeron accompanied her twin to all of her treatments and therapy sessions.

The work done with her sister by the occupational therapists stood out to her. She saw the good they were doing for someone she loved, and knew she wanted to do the same for others. Now, at age 25, she’s still working toward that goal, even as she helps others at Silver Cross and with the blessing box.

The purpose of the box is to create an atmosphere of support and generosity within the community. It is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The box is for everyone within the community, and is sustained by the community.

It helps individuals who need help financially for food and various items but is too shy to ask for help. The pantry helps fulfill short-term basic needs for those who don’t always have access to them. Individuals can swap goods for what they need, leave donated goods for others to pick up anonymously, or just take what they need. The pantry will hold non-perishable food items and basic household items.

The group included the following items to kickstart the blessing box: paper towels, toilet paper, paper plates, garbage bags, dish soap, canned goods, bottled water, toothbrushes, toothpaste, soap bars, 2-in-1 shampoo/conditioner, deodorant, bandages, tissues, feminine hygiene products, baby wipes, laundry detergent, fabric softener sheets, dog food and cat food.

The box is intended to be self-sustaining, in the sense that community members should replenish supplies with items they can share, even as they take what they need. Bergeron said she’ll check on it occasionally, but she fully expects people will keep the blessings going.