July 6, 2021

Students, alumni win $25,000 from Ford Fund for Blessing Box community outreach project

The Ford Motor Company Fund selected Wayne State University to receive a Ford College Community Challenge (C3) grant of $25,000 for the Blessing Box project, a collaborative effort that creates locker-sized outdoor pantries to provide 24/7, stigma-free access to non-perishable food items and toiletries to those in need.

The Ford College Community Challenge (C3) is an innovative grant-making initiative designed to inspire students at higher education organizations to catalyze community-building projects focused on addressing timely local needs. The C3 grant will enable the Blessing Box project to expand its network of support and add handwashing stations to support community health during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Launched in 2018 by WSU’s Muslim Student Association, the Blessing Box project was based on the growing popularity of national interfaith movements, in which communities supported the basic needs of their own neighbors through accessible and welcoming boxes stocked with a supply of essential goods such as cereal and crackers, toothbrushes and toothpaste, and hats and socks. The first Blessing Box, a tall, wooden cabinet installed outside the University Islamic Center of Detroit in March 2018, has since been joined by a network of 13 additional boxes based at various churches, community centers and homeless shelters.

With the support of the C3 grant, the project — which is now part of the Blessing Box Global 501c3 nonprofit — will build and install 18 additional boxes and handwashing stations throughout the summer. The one-year grant will conclude in December 2021, with data analysis and impact reporting to community partners.

“We’re thankful to the Ford Fund for their generous support and shared commitment to Detroit, especially as our city navigates the challenges and disparities among access to nutritious food and basic hygiene,” said Ramaiz Imran. “Everyone deserves access to healthy food and should not have to worry about where they will be able to wash their hands. Our hope is that the Blessing Boxes and handwashing stations will provide support to those in need, and remind them that their community cares about their well-being.”

Food insecurity is an existing problem for many, and it has been compounded by increases in homelessness and unemployment during the pandemic. The pandemic has also forced many public facilities — which had previously served as a haven for those in need —  to reduce hours or close temporarily. Based on data analyses of previous usage, the project will now provide more than 2,100 individuals with access to food, and daily sanitation for 200 individuals.

The Blessing Box project is led by 20 student volunteers, representing Blessing Box Global, Paani, and Warrior Street Medicine. In addition to building, installing and maintaining the stations, volunteers conduct monthly inventory and supply replenishment, participate in various community outreach events to build awareness, and collect and analyze data related to the uses and needs of the community.

To date, the project has also received support from WSU through various student competitions, including OptimizeWayne and the STEAM Challenge. The group works with the Division of Development and Alumni Affairs and the Office of Business Innovation to pursue additional opportunities for internal and external support.

“We’re obviously glad that the pandemic seems to be winding down, but we also hope that it has reinvigorated the broader community’s ability to think globally about health and wellness," said Imran. “The Blessing Box project has continued to grow because of a shared understanding that, although we may vastly different backgrounds and experiences, we’re all part of the same community.”

Ford Fund awarded 10 C3 grants this year, including the Blessing Box project. The Ford Fund has also previously supported other student-led Wayne State University initiatives, including the Detroit Biodiversity Network, in which hydrology research is incorporated into green stormwater infrastructure to alleviate the impact of flooded basements in metropolitan Detroit, and Auntie Na’s Village, which provides sustainable community health care and nutrition resources in Detroit’s Nardin Park neighborhood.

About Ford Fund

As the philanthropic arm of Ford Motor Company, Ford Fund’s mission is to strengthen communities and help make people’s lives better. Working with dealers and nonprofit partners in more than 60 countries, Ford Fund provides access to opportunities and resources that help people reach their full potential. Since 1949, Ford Fund has invested more than $2 billion in programs that support education, promote safe driving, enrich community life and encourage employee volunteering. For more information, visit www.fordfund.org.



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