Eagle project to provide for those in need embraced by Boyle communities

Published 7:27 pm Wednesday, December 26, 2018

Victor Gomez is working toward his Eagle Scout badge. He could’ve made a birdfeeder or a park bench, but he wanted to do something that would make a difference — something that the community could see, and to help others know, “There are still Boy Scouts out here,” he says.

So he and his mom, Anna Gomez, researched Blessing Boxes. They reached out to others on social media who designed and built them in other communities.

Anna says Victor got about four or five different set of blueprints and compared them with a cabinet they have at home. “He knew exactly how tall he wanted them and why.��

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The planning phase took about four months, and building the boxes required the family living room to resemble a small warehouse, Anna says.

Bobbie Curd
Heather Walls holds Larkin while she and Jonah Robbins (background) stock the Blessing Box in Danville. Victor Gomez holds the container full of nonperishables they are donating.

Now, the Blessing Boxes are set up in four different locations. Victor wanted to give back to each part of the community to which he has ties. Two are in Junction City, where he lives; one is in Danville behind Sts. Peter and Paul Catholic Church, where his troop is headquartered, on the corner of East Broadway and North First Street; and one is at New Hope Baptist Church, in Moreland, where he played soccer.

“He saw someone warming their hands the other day outside, so we had to go get gloves and toboggans,” Anna says. Hats and gloves were put in each box a few days ago and by Wednesday, they were all gone.

Everything on the boxes, which are sturdily made, is donated — from the wood down to the nails and glass on the doors. Victor wanted them a certain height, so little kids couldn’t mess around with any of the items, but not too tall to where someone in a wheelchair couldn’t reach them. And he wanted Spanish on the box directions, too.

Victor’s stepdad, who he calls dad — Christian Hernandez — helped him with the initial design and construction. Christian donated cedar wood to be used, so they will hopefully last forever.

Christian and Anna even donated $300 to begin stocking the four boxes. Now, the communities they are in have seemingly taken them over.

“It’s important to donate after Christmas,” says Heather Walls, who came out with Larkin Walls and Johah Robbins with a plastic container overflowing with nonperishable goods. They are helping to restock the Danville Blessing Box, which gets cleaned out pretty quickly, Anna says.

Victor and Anna keep watch on them, straighten them up, wipe down the shelves when needed and restock when low.

While putting boxes and pouches of food into the box with the kids’ help, Heather says it’s easy to think about families in need over the holidays. “Then it’s over, and there’s nothing left in the box. We got all winter to get through …”

Victor says the first box was stocked full by friends at Boyle County High School, who brought cans of food — teachers did too, as well as other Boy Scouts.

Anna says Victor gets really nervous about things. When the Blessing Boxes were first installed, she said he worried about them non-stop, meaning they made drive-bys almost daily. She said it was inspiring; they’d see folks taking out, and other folks putting in.

Victor is in 10th grade and in special education classes. Born developmentally disabled, Anna says she and Christian never raised him to think he was “special needs.” They never wanted him to think there was anything he couldn’t do.

“I move my hands a lot,” Victor says, due to anxiety “ticks,” they call them. “I do play sports though.” 

Anna says he has some short-term memory issues, and they have to “warm up our memories.” She says Victor remembers people often by what kinds of shoes they wore when he met them.

“It’s just a different perspective,” she says. “Now I always take in the whole person when I meet them, because of him. I always look at people’s shoes.”

When Victor was little, Anna says some teachers apologized for him getting bullied in school. She says she and Christian never even knew.

Photos contributed
Victor Gomez and his stepdad Christian Hernandez design and construct the Blessing boxes in Victor’s living room.

“After we looked into it, they said he was taking up for everybody else who was being bullied. I’m proud of him,” she says. A huge grin spreads across Victor’s face, punctuated by one big dimple on each side.

Victor really began shining when he started with Cub Scouts, around 8 or 9 years old, Anna says. “He was really introverted before that,” but now his nickname is “Chatty Cathy.”

Anna was worried about how he would be accepted when he moved from Cub to Boy Scouts. “But they all accepted each other. There’s not a ‘norm;’ all these boys have things to offer. The Scouts have become his brothers.”

All the boys in his troop came out to their house to help Victor and others build the boxes. They had some trials and errors when they first began, Anna says. The one in Danville was knocked right off its hinges by a big wind that came along.

“And they all signed the roof inside the box, the whole troop. So it’s like a time capsule,” Anna says, who is also assistant Scoutmaster.

They are trying to get the boxes on the Little Free Pantry registry, a grassroots movement that began in 2016, which provides a database of box locations for families in need.

“That way, people can find locations by using their phone. Churches can support them, too. That’s the challenge, for someone to hopefully sponsor them and keep them stocked,” Anna says.

Saturday, Roy Miller, dressed as Santa, sat at the bench next to the Blessing Box in front of city hall in Junction to collect donations. Anna says that specific box is facing the building because it’s next to a bench and needed to be wheelchair accessible.

Roy had said he’d take up post at the bench until he received 100 donations.

“We collected 550 items of food, in canned and dry goods, all nonperishable,” said Junction City Police Chief Merle Baldwin. They also took in $96 in donations, which will be used to restock the boxes.

“We were not expecting that,” Baldwin said. He said they took up post a little before 9 a.m., and had 100 items in the first 35 minutes.

“(Roy) looked at me, and we said heck with it, we’re here, let’s do it. We stayed, kept on cruising. People kept on giving.”