Eighth-grader Manuel Santos, who knows what it is like to be hungry, built a Blessings Box for Purple Heart Elementary.
The food pantry, similar to a Little Free Library and located at the front of school, is filled with canned goods and non-perishable food for students and families in need.
“What inspired me to create the Blessings Box was the fact that I used to be a child who sometimes wouldn’t have food to eat,” said Santos, a student at Sun Ridge Middle School. “I know that there are a lot of kids out there that need food, but they might not say anything. I wanted it to provide an extra meal for those who are hungry.”
Building the purple and gold colored food pantry was a community project to help Santos become an Eagle Scout. The young man spent two weeks constructing it thanks to supply donations from Home Depot and Lowes. His uncle, Roman Payan, Troop 137 Scoutmaster, and an assistant scout master, also helped.
“Now it serves its purpose to give back to my community,” Santos said. “I feel really good because I know that this community is very humble and families may need an extra meal and I was able to provide for that.”
The Heroes’ Blessings Box is the only one located at a school in the El Paso area. Across the country, they can usually be found in churches and recreational centers, Payan said. The first one was built in 2016.
Payan is proud of his nephew, whom he adopted in 2014. The young boy quickly understood what it meant to be a Boy Scout even though he joined scouting only four years ago.
“This Blessings Box is special,” said Payan, a retired teacher. “Manny knows about feeling hungry. When he was little, he would go from home to home trying to find a meal every evening with his mom. This community project comes to the heart of the situation because Manny understands that ‘I was there one time and now I can give back.’”
That caring message is equally important to Purple Heart students, said Deborah Luevano, the Communities in Schools coordinator and family and parent engagement liaison. From Pre-K to fifth grade, youngsters are learning that there are people who may be hungry in their own classrooms and community.
“We have seen a significant need from families that may be experiencing some type of crisis or on occasion a need,” Luevano said. “Some families may be in need more frequently. A person from El Pasoans Fighting Hunger told me that one in four kids in our area is hungry. We want to help them any time they may need it whether we are in school, on intersession or during summer break. We want to make sure the Blessings Box is always here and available to them.”
Initially, first-grade students and teachers sponsored the small food pantry, Luevano said. Many families and students brought in food and other staples to fill up its shelves. El Pasoans Fighting Hunger, who recently began a partnership with Purple Heart, also contributed. Other grade levels and the school’s Kindness Club are stepping up to help as well.
“I hope this becomes an inspiration for other schools so they also can provide to families in need,” Luevano said.
As for her thoughts on Santos, who never attended Purple Heart, but decided to help the elementary school, Luevano’s voice breaks and is close to tears speaking about the young man.
“He is an awesome citizen, student,” she said. “I think it really shows his character. He has come full circle and is using his own hands to give back. It’s just fabulous.”
The Purple Heart Elementary Blessings Box is located at the front of the school and is available to any family in need whether they are a Purple Heart family or not. Donations for the food pantry also will be accepted from community members.