ANDERSON — Like an oasis, the blue box offers sustenance to those lost in the desert — a food desert, that is.
Sitting at 1017 W. 19th St., it houses non-perishable food and hygiene supplies free for the taking 24/7, no questions asked.
The box, and a second one planned for 1523 Nelle St., is in an area identified by the U.S. Department of Agriculture as a food desert.
According to the USDA’s Food Access Research Atlas, 20% of the households in the area of the box do not own a vehicle and live more than a half mile from a grocery store.
“I’ve got a potential third location, as well, but I’m going to focus on the second location before I move any further,” said Domanic Wills, founder of the Westside Concerned Citizens Coalition.
Wills started the coalition to encourage citizens to take a more active part in local government by going to meetings and speaking up.
Last fall, he noticed a small, empty white box sitting atop a post and began filling it with food items. Later, shelves were added to a larger blue box next to it, making more room for food.
“I felt like I needed to find a place where I could give back to the community,” Wills explained.
He created a Facebook group, WCCC Free Food Box Project, and people starting sharing messages and photos as they stopped by to make donations.
“Some days it’s full; some days it’s empty,” Wills noted.
The box is intended for non-perishable food and hygiene supplies. A flyer advertising the box reads: “Give what you would want to receive.”
“I kind of model it as a little, small grocery store, but it’s free,” Wills said, noting that he tries to add to it from every aisle in the grocery store.
He hopes to start offering fresh produce on Fridays.
He was inspired by the Little Free Pantry movement started in Fayetteville, Arkansas, in May 2016 by Jessica McClard, according to the website littlefreepantry.org.
The map on the website denotes the locations of the mini-pantries. It lists 47 in Indiana but none in Madison County, making the westside coalition’s potentially the first.
The city has been trying to attract a grocery store to the west side after the Marsh Supermarket on Nichol Avenue closed in 2017. Efforts so far have been unsuccessful.
“I feel like if we as the community step up and try to tackle the issue ourselves, maybe someone will try to help us versus waiting on someone to bring it to us,” Wills said.