Students' donation to local Salvation Army a 'blessing' for the community

Shaka L. Cobb/Daily Citizen-News

From left, Kara Green, Hannah Lizaola, Destiny Tentea and Almendra Corona members of City Park School's STEP (Science, Technology, Engineering and Production) Club stand outside of the food bank at the Salvation Army Dalton on Thornton Avenue with business manager Patricia Thompson. The students donated to the Salvation Army a "Blessing Box," which allows people to take and leave food and other items when the food bank is closed.

The Salvation Army Dalton provides resources for people needing assistance with rent, utilities, clothing and food. But what happens when help is needed after the food bank closes?

It's a question Patricia Thompson, Salvation Army business manager, said she's been "trying to figure out for a long time" — until now, thanks to Thompson's granddaughter Kara Green and three of her fellow elementary school students.

Green, Almendra Corona, Hannah Lizaola and Destiny Tentea are members of City Park School's STEP (Science, Technology, Engineering and Production) Club, an after-school engineering group for girls.

The students, all rising fifth-graders, recently donated a "Blessing Box" to the Salvation Army's food bank at 1109 N. Thornton Ave. The large pink and blue wooden box bearing the phrase "Take what you need, give what you can" was inspired by “Little Free Libraries” throughout the area, which allow people to share books by taking or leaving them from a kiosk at no cost. The United Way of Northwest Georgia had 27 “Little Free Libraries” installed in places such as parks and community centers in Whitfield and Murray counties.

"The purpose of the 'Blessing Box' is to give less fortunate people access to non-perishable food and personal hygiene items," said Green. "We know that other cities have boxes, too, so we wanted to help our community.

Thompson called the box a "perfect addition” because it “helps us continue services we already provide at the food bank.”

The Salvation Army's food bank is open Monday through Friday from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Thompson said now those who come after hours can use the "Blessing Box." The box has items such as deodorant, toothpaste, shampoo, socks, water and canned goods.

Thompson said Dalton Middle School students donated to the Salvation Army "Blessing Bags" packed with food, water, deodorant, socks and shampoo. She plans to use some of items from the "Blessing Bags" in the "Blessing Box."

"The bags were right on time," she said. "The Lord is very good at taking all the little pieces and making them work together."

Earlier during the school year, seven STEP Club groups presented their projects to local judges for a chance to compete at the K-12 InVenture Prize Competition at Georgia Tech. Green and her team members didn't win, but they found another way to make their project beneficial.

Lisa Cushman, the City Park STEM teacher, said she encouraged the girls to "identify a problem, need or challenge, brainstorm possible solutions, plan, design, test, improve or redesign, present ideas to others."

Cushman said the girls learned a valuable lesson about hard work, persistence and collaboration.

"When the group was trying to decide where the 'Blessing Box' should go to benefit the community, Kara remembered her grandmother (Thompson), (works) at the Salvation Army," Cushman said.

Debbie Banty and Veronica Lopez, who work at Shaw Industries, were the group's mentors.

Banty said students worked on the project most of the school year using guidelines by the STEP Club to help solve a problem.

"The girls were really passionate about doing something for the community," Lopez said. "They wanted to put boxes throughout the city, but we thought it would be a great idea to start at the Salvation Army."

Joe Springfield, a group mentor who works at Shaw Industries, helped students build the box with materials that Home Depot donated.

"I was thrilled to see our students, community and Shaw (employees) work together to make life better for the less fortunate," Cushman said. "It was a great way to end the year."

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