BAKERSFIELD, Calif. — About a year ago, local resident Francine Papadimitrakis created The Giving Bench, a place where various items, like flowers and food, were free for anyone to take.
“Something bigger than me had a different plan and it turned into a giving bench," said Papadimitrakis.
Papadimitrakis's mother thought she had purchased her daughter a table, but it turned out to be a bench. Originally, Papadimitrakis used it to create The Giving Bench through her church. But it has since expanded it to the rest of the community.
"It just grew. And the need grew in our community beyond just our church, so then it developed into this. It was serendipitous, seamless. It was meant to be," Papadimitrakis said.
Papadimitrakis said that need is especially strong right now during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“These are unprecedented times that are demanding of us unprecedented kindness."
Papadimitrakis’s family provides many of the items, but various people and businesses donate as well, and she said she’s grateful for the help.
“I couldn’t do this by myself. I’m just one pair of hands with many hands involved," she said.
Whether it’s some extra food to put on the dinner table, or flowers to brighten someone's day, The Giving Bench always has something to offer.
This week though, it needed some giving of its own.
“Two nights ago, it was taken. So my hope is, someone really needed it," Papadimitrakis said.
Papadimitrakis left the bench and its remaining items out overnight Sunday, and in the morning it was gone. She says the response she saw on social media was overwhelming.
“I honestly shed so many tears periodically yesterday. I was working and teaching and I’d read another comment and start crying again," Papadimitrakis said.
Papadimitrakis has always posted updates on the bench in the Bakersfield Gardening Group Facebook page, and its members rallied around her. One family even donated a new bench on Monday.
Papadimitrakis said it is just one example of a motto her family lives by.
“In ancient Greek, we have a saying that nothing is pure good and nothing is pure bad so out of something that is very hard and challenging for many of us... there’s something good."
And Papadimitrakis’s seven-year-old granddaughter Kiley is already living by this mantra as well.
“Try and stay safe, and we’ll get through this," Kiley said.
Papadimitrakis also just recently created a Giving Garden and says she is hoping to expand it across her entire lawn. She says she is always up for a helping hand.