SHAWANO — It’s a box not unlike those “little libraries” people have built on a post on their front lawn.
This one’s quite a bit larger and stands outside the 3-year-old preschool classroom at Sacred Heart School in Shawano.
It’s filled not with books to share but with all kinds of items people can just take, mostly things people need but sometimes can’t afford: toothpaste, toothbrushes, diapers and canned food.
There’s some fun stuff, too: toy cars, monster trucks and bottles of soap to blow bubbles.
After all, it is the project of 3-year-olds.
Named the “Mother Teresa Blessing Box,” the brainchild of preschool teacher Stacey Dickmann is one way Sacred Heart has dedicated this school year to learning and sharing how St. Teresa of Calcutta cared for and loved the less fortunate.
Dickmann, back teaching where she went to grade school, explained, “We prayed and thought about what we could do that would carry Mother Teresa’s lessons throughout the school year. I decided that the blessing box would be a good way to bring her spirit to our school and to our neighborhood.
“I wanted it to be something more sustaining, something that would make a difference,” she added. “I didn’t know if it was necessary or if it would take off, but I had a feeling it would.”
Dickmann took the idea to the parent of one of her pupils, Kevin Gee, who owns Crossroads Custom Cabinetry in Shawano. Gee crafted the box, donating his time and materials.
The preschoolers were able to get hands on the project by painting the box with the help of another parent, Chris Marcks.
“I’m artsy,” Marcks said, “and it was fun. The kids had so much fun doing it.”
After parish governance bodies gave their approval, the blessing box went up along South Sawyer Street the first week of May.
Pupils from the preschool and other Sacred Heart students donated items, and on each one the 3-year-olds put a sticker that bears a quote from Mother Teresa. The eight preschoolers then put the first items in the blessing box.
“They were so excited to climb up on a stepladder and do that,” Dickmann said. She has been thankful that the project seems to be something that was needed in the neighborhood just south of downtown.
On Wednesday of the second week in May, 32 items were placed in the box; Friday that week, they were gone.
As she teaches, Dickmann can see the blessing box outside her classroom windows. She has seen people come to the box and take items, so she knows the donations are going to those who need them.
While she’ll notice folks at the box, she won’t bring it to the attention of the 3-year-olds.
“I don’t want to put a face to the needy,” she said. “I don’t want anyone who needs these things to feel uncomfortable or embarrassed.”
The project has offered a way to teach love of neighbor and social justice to 3-year-olds, who as Marcks noted, “think when you break something you buy a new one.”
Dickmann said, “At this age, they don’t understand that people don’t have money to just go to WalMart and buy toothbrushes.
“But children can learn to be good to their neighbors and take care of their neighbors.”
The next step is for the rest of the Sacred Heart Parish community to be invited to donate items. Dickmann said it was always her hope that the blessing box would be something that would inspire people to care for others.
She’s glad her 3-year-olds have been able to have a role in making life a little better for others, noting, “Preschoolers have such a role in making people smile.”