Bobbie Jo Mitchell: Service is its own reward

Beth KinnaneOur Town Neighbors, Powell

Operation Inasmuch is calling on local churches to participate in helping the community in the easiest of ways: by installing a “blessing box” on their church property where it can be accessed by those in need, no questions asked.

“We’re trying to identify 50 new locations for potential installations,” said Bobbie Jo Mitchell, the administrative director of the non-profit organization that has offices on Cedar Lane. “There’s a great need for more blessing boxes. It’s a way for anyone to grab something to feed themselves or their family with no paperwork, no forms to fill out, with no shame whatsoever.”

Bobbie Joe Mitchell with son, Silas, and husband, Chris.

Operation Inasmuch was founded in 1995 in Fayetteville, North Carolina, by David Crocker, who now lives in Knoxville. The “operation” part of the name came from being adjacent to Fort Bragg. The “inasmuch” came from the Bible verse at the center of the group’s non-denominational compassion ministry, Matthew 25:40: “Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.”

“We take that verse quite literally,” Mitchell said. “Our unofficial motto is ‘out of the seats and into the streets.’ This is about stepping out of the walls of the church and making a difference in the community.”

In short, she said, Jesus said to go help people, so that’s what we are doing. The blessing box project is funded by a grant from Trinity Health Foundation of East Tennessee. Phase one is install three boxes and get feedback for two months. Assuming all goes well, phase two is to build 50 more. Once locations are secured, Operation Inasmuch will build and install the box, then stock it monthly for a year. The hope is that the box’s presence organically increases donations and use, and that after a year the host church and surrounding community will keep it maintained and stocked.

“These are wonderful resources for those experiencing homelessness or just people having a hard time making a paycheck stretch,” Mitchell said.

While any donations to a blessing box anywhere are appreciated, she did outline a few of the best types of donations, especially considering their use by homeless individuals: pop-top canned goods that don’t require an opener, canned goods that can be eaten cold and don’t have to be cooked, mixes and other foods that only require the addition of water instead of milk, eggs and/or oils, ramen noodles, cereal bars, individually wrapped plastic eating utensils, and boxed cereals for babies.

She did give a warning about leaving canned jars of baby foods: mind the temperature and only leave in a well shaded box.

“Though they are sealed, they don’t need to be exposed to extreme cold or heat,” Mitchell said. “So just use good judgment if you want to donate some baby food.”

Mitchell, now 35, grew up in Loudon County. She now lives in Powel with her husband, Chris, and their 3-year-old son, Silas. She works in Inskip and attends Park West Church in West Knoxville. While her faith is certainly a big part of her work with Operation Inasmuch, life experience is another.

“I grew up knowing the struggle,” she said. “I didn’t want to live that way, and I didn’t want others to live that way. Jesus mandated as a follower of him that I’m supposed to serve other people. I want to be a part of the percent that’s making a difference.”

The organization works alongside area churches to help them build their own compassion ministries. Just last month, the group helped send 275,000 food packs to Poland to feed refugees from the war in Ukraine (see Knox TN Today’s story here). Mitchell said they’re now gearing up for 2022 Inasmuch United Knoxville on Saturday, August 20, bringing churches across the community together for a day of service. Projects include home repairs with Operation Backyard, painting at Bridge Refugee Services and Sacred Ground Hospice House, and working in the Battlefield Farm community garden.

For more information on Inasmuch United Knoxville, go here. For more information on Operation Inasmuch go here or here.

Beth Kinnane is the community news editor for

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