In 2016, Chrissie Feike and her husband, Nick, lost everything they had in a house fire, including two beloved dogs who died in subsequent days.
While Chrissie and Nick were working at the time, they were renting in Traverse City and had no insurance.
“We literally had nothing to our name except a basket of clothes,” Chrissie says.
People reached out and offered help. Her coworkers got them a hotel room for a few weeks. Their veterinarian established a Gofundme drive on their behalf.
They found another place to live for a few weeks. Then they moved in with their neighbors, eventually finding a way to buy a house in Kalkaska, where they live now. The Gofundme allowed them to pay off their vet bills “and pretty much start from a clean slate.”
After that, Chrissie found herself making care packages for people she knew were going through hard times. But living in a small town, that could feel awkward. She knew how reluctant she had been to ask for help, and wanted a way to offer assistance anonymously.
And so came her idea of creating what she calls a “blessing box.” It would be a cabinet in their front yard where people could stop and help themselves to the fixings for a quick meal, or some laundry soap, toiletries —whatever she managed to fill it with.
She found a cabinet, tried to winterize it, and put it out in October. The words, “Our Little Free Pantry,” are inscribed on the front.
Inside, she included a note: “I hope this box blesses your family with immediate needs in the event of an emergency, or even if you just don’t have the money to make ends meet right now. Do not be embarrassed, because we have been where you are, and we are here to help now.”
A few days in, the cabinet disappeared. She assumed it had been stolen and put the word out on Facebook that it was missing. It was returned a few days later, with everything inside and some additional items besides. She thinks someone mistook it for free furniture, returning it as soon as they realized it wasn’t.
But because of her Facebook posts, people now knew about her little pantry. Since then, some have come by and left donations of food, detergent, diapers and the like. Others have stopped to pick up necessities as they need them.
“I see people taking a meal’s worth at a time,” she says. “I’ve seen the laundry sheets and detergent go.
“I came home on a lunch break and saw someone had put a box of cereal and some rice and pasta there. I don’t know who does it. I’m grateful.”
That’s what this whole endeavor is about: being grateful for when people helped them, and wanting to do the same for others.
“I’m just trying to make a difference here,” she said. “I can’t fight the big fight without fighting for the folks in my own area.”
“I was grateful for the help that we got from strangers,” she said. “I only hope this reaches those that need a meal in the middle of a tough situation.”