The Ashland Free Box shut down in February after an employee reported finding hypodermic needles will be re-opening, if on a limited schedule, starting Thursday, March 2.

The Free Box has been an Ashland institution for 15 years. It’s on the Recology Recycling Center grounds on Water Street and is a free exchange spot, mostly for clothing but sometimes household items appear there as well. It is housed in a small shed with an open side and door. Residents can drop things off there and pick up other items at no charge and no questions asked.

General Manager Gary Blake shut the Free Box down after reports by an employee of finding three needles. The employee was not harmed and the needles were not embedded in clothing.

Blake says he has been trying to figure out ways to re-open it while protecting public safety.

“The needles were found between two boxes," he said. "It’s more likely the needles were thrown there or placed there. If we can keep an eye on activities we’ll be able to ensure a reasonable level of safety and security.”

Blake says he’ll open the Free Box at times when he has employees who are able to take a few hours to greet and monitor. He plans to post signs two to three days prior to opening so people can plan around it. “I’ll continue to do that until we get something longer term for people," he said. "We’ll have it open some time during each week.”

He says the closing of the Free Box has been on his mind and an encounter he recently had drove him to open it back up, even if for a few hours each week. “I received a call from an individual last Friday who talked about the impact of the Free Box not being available to her," Blake said. "I kept thinking about that.” He said it spurred him not to wait for a more comprehensive plan but to act quickly. “I’m just trying to open up the Free Box as I have staff to manage it.”

Blake’s long-term goal is to work with an organization to provide volunteers who can greet people and monitor donations so the Free Box can be open more hours each week. He says he is in talks with one group and hopes to have an answer by next Friday.

Meantime, the Free Box will be open from noon to 3 p.m. Thursday, March 2. After that, he will try to open at least one day per week until he finds volunteers, Blake said.

“I give a lot to that box," said Ashland resident Barbara Dierks. "I use that. Sometimes I might have something with a small stain or hole and they won’t take it at the Goodwill or Hospice store but it can still be used. I don’t give anything to the trash. ... I really like that place. I want that to come back.”

Activists for the homeless and those living in poverty have expressed a need for the box to re-open. This is welcome news, according to Community Peace Meal organizer Vanessa Martynse Houk who announced the Free Box would re-open on a limited schedule, for now. Her announcement on social media was met with smiley faces and pledges that warm clothing would be donated Thursday.

— Email Ashland freelance writer Julie Akins at and follow her on Twitter at