Tina McStoots knows what it’s like to do without. Her circumstances were once so desperate, she can remember searching for food in a dumpster behind a restaurant. Now that she is able to give back and help others experiencing desperate situations, that is just what she chooses to do.
“I was homeless for four years and I was pregnant every year,” McStoots said. “Every time I had a kid, I had to take them to my mom’s so I wouldn’t lose them through the state. I know what it is like to be homeless and that’s why I want to help people.”
Her toughest years, from 1984-88, are still at the front of her memory as she works to help the homeless and impoverished in Owensboro through the 1144 Blessing Box, an outreach available on her porch 24 hours a day for those who need it.
It all started when McStoots and her 10-year-old grandson were taking leftover food to a local blessing box in town. When he started to ask her questions about why they were taking food to drop off, McStoots felt like she had the perfect opportunity to share some of her story with him.
“I told him we were helping the homeless and that some people can’t afford to buy food and clothes,” she said. “He asked me if they had blessing boxes when I was homeless and I told him no. When he asked where I slept, I answered him that I slept in empty buildings and an abandoned mobile home across the river.”
After the conversation, her grandson asked her why she didn’t make her own blessing box. That simple question is how it all began.
“I had it all out on my porch really organized. I wanted to do more than just a traditional blessing box,” McStoots said. “Sometimes late at night, the homeless come looking for something so I’ll put blankets out there for them or leave a peanut butter sandwich.”
The goal is to keep a wide range of supplies in stock including food, hygiene items, flavored bottled water and clothes. McStoots encourages people to bring donations and ring the doorbell. She says she keeps track of how many people are helped daily and how many donations she receives.
“Some days I get more than others. I have helped as many as 29 people with food or clothes and supplies in one day,” she said. “We have a high demand for baby clothes and are also low on men’s clothing and children’s clothing size 14 and up.”
Other items in high need include travel packs of toothpaste, non-perishable food, and diapers and wipes.
Since the demand went up around the holidays, McStoots was glad to receive some used toys to clean and give away as Christmas gifts. She reiterated that any used items must be in good condition for them to be able to use it.
“If it is badly stained, ripped, or won’t zip and has missing buttons, I won’t put it out,” she said. “If I wouldn’t wear it, I don’t expect you to.”
Looking ahead, McStoots wants to reach even more people who are in need. She currently has a cardboard sign tied to a handrail bit hopes to get an official sign made soon so people can find her easier.
“I want to make it bigger,” she said. “When taxes come in, I’m planning to buy two 10×12 storage buildings and run patio lights out to my backyard. I’ll have tables set up on the inside. If they want to come look at the inside at night, it’s there.”
For more information on the 1144 Blessing Box, visit its Facebook Group, 1144 Blessing Box.