PHOTO//Matt Bieker

Grant Denton is a former homeless addict who created the idea of placing “karma boxes”—community food and toiletry pantries—around Northern Nevada. The boxes are built by recovering addicts, painted by local artists, and stocked by the community for homeless individuals to make use of.

What’s the deal with the boxes?

I’m a recovering addict. When you are an addict, there’s a block between you. There’s kind of an almost “us against them” idea, you against the community kind of gig, because we commit acts of crimes against the community when we’re trying to sustain an addiction. So, when you get clean, it’s difficult to integrate back into a community that you feel so separated from. And the one thing that I found that helps is volunteering, is giving back. It’s almost like your paying your dues, kind of gig. I was thinking, “How can you give back and get as many people involved?” I was reading this book by Malcom Gladwell about positive social epidemic. If you can get as many different people to touch one idea as possible, it moves toward a positive social epidemic. So that’s where the boxes come in. We have recovering addicts from the Life Change Center, which is a methadone clinic out here, build the box. We have local artists paint the box. Local businesses adopt the box, and then members of the community fill the box. The idea is, if you need it, take it, and if it’s empty, fill it. It gets everybody involved with one common goal, and that’s just to give back.

Where did the idea for the first box comes from?

We were working for agencies, painting the walls of like the Empowerment Center, or going to Westcare and helping clean it up, but we didn’t have that in Carson, so we were like, “How can we give back to the community out there?” Somebody mentioned a library box, and that doesn’t really serve our population, you know?

Makes sense.

So we were like, “Let’s just do boxes.” Because those library boxes are on point, dude. Whoever made those boxes knows how to build a fucking box.

And it’s like a passive way to donate in ways they might not do otherwise.

Absolutely. … So far we’ve got six out. We’ve got one in Douglas County, one in Lyon County, four out here and one in Carson—so, seven. The cool thing is that, people—when you start working social services or giving back in the community—you’ll find that people want to give, people want to help. I promise you, they do. When you give someone easy access to helping, they’ll fucking do it, dude. You put a box there and all you got to do is put something in the box, like why wouldn’t you?

Is this something that could have benefited you when you were homeless?

Oh yes, I was homeless on the streets of Vegas, and I was addicted to meth. A lot of times, when you’re homeless and addicted to drugs, and you don’t got nowhere to go, you ride it until the wheels fall off. … And you sleep where you drop, and often times you’ll drop from the sun. And then you’re dehydrated, and you’ll go to the emergency room. So if they would have had something like water—a lot of people in the summer will put water in there, water and Gatorade. And a lot of times, when people get clean, being clean is not enough. You’ve got to have purpose. You’ve got to have something drive you forward. And giving people purpose and showing them that, it gives them some self efficacy like, “I can do something, I built that box, bro!”