ABINGTON, Pa. -- Abigail Preletz, a criminal justice major at Penn State Abington, is enrolled in a victimization course this semester, and she is interning at Northeast Victim Services, a nonprofit that works with police to support those impacted by crime.
Abington student’s 'blessing boxes' aid those in need in North Philadelphia
Her empathy for victims permeates her life and extends into her own neighborhood. She lives in North Philadelphia near a park where homeless people gather.
“I feel like there’s such a negative stigma toward the homeless and those that are financially disadvantaged. People don’t understand how they got there or how hard it is,” the senior said.
Preletz can sympathize to some degree since she was laid off during the pandemic and is receiving unemployment compensation.
“I thought, ‘Why not do something with my unemployment?’ I can spend this money freely to set up something small that would benefit my community and especially those that are financially needy,” she said.
So Preletz decided to create a what she calls a "blessings box." Using her own unemployment compensation, she purchases personal care items such as masks, hand sanitizer, feminine hygiene products, toothpaste, deodorant and snacks. She pops items into Ziploc bags and then drops them into cardboard boxes.
Preletz posts messages on the boxes in marker encouraging people to take items and to be safe. Finally, she walks to the park across from the Albert Einstein Medical Center and places them on benches.
“I leave the box and walk away. Sometimes the whole box is gone, and sometimes I have to put out a new one. I really enjoy doing this for anyone who needs the extra help,” she said. “Even nurses go to the park on their break, and there’s a lot of homeless population, too. It’s a no judgement thing. Anyone can grab what they need. If you need the whole box, take it,” she said.
“I’m 22, and I feel like I have the advantage of spending my money the way I want to. That’s why I place the boxes in a park where there might be homeless or be financially disadvantaged people,” Preletz said.
Susan Robinson, lecturer in criminal justice at Abington, wasn’t surprised to find out about the blessing boxes.
“Abigail is clearly interested in learning about the problems in our criminal justice system and the many social justice issues facing our communities. She is also genuinely concerned for individuals facing these injustices, whether they are victims/survivors of serious crime, individuals who are homeless, or children who have been abused,” Robinson said.
“Abigail is committed to making a difference in the lives of all those that she meets. I commend her dedication to making a positive impact in the community and am happy to heed her call to action,” she continued.
Preletz grew up in the small town of Catasauqua in Lehigh County. She spent two years at a nearby community college before transferring to Abington. She considers herself to be a caring person who comes from a caring family.
“I take a lot of inspiration from grandmother who passed away last July. She used to take in friends who didn’t have a lot,” she said.
As for the future of the blessings boxes, Preletz plans to continue.
“I would love to put in gift cards and one day set up a separate account to pay for whatever I put in the boxes,” she said. “I want to provide help to as many people as I possibly can in my lifetime.”
Preletz, whose blessings boxes were featured on 6ABC recently, plans to attend graduate school after completing her degree at Abington. In the interim, she encourages people to “make a little difference in your community. It’s a feel-good thing and judgement-free.”
About Penn State Abington
Penn State Abington provides an affordable, accessible and high-impact education resulting in the success of a diverse student body. It is committed to student success through innovative approaches to 21st-century public higher education within a world-class research university. With nearly 4,000 students, Penn State Abington is a residential campus that offers baccalaureate degrees in 22 majors, undergraduate research, the Schreyer Honors College, NCAA Division III athletics and more.