'Take a Shrek, leave a Shrek' on South 7th Street

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You’ve seen the Free Blockbuster boxes. Maybe you’ve grabbed a book or yarn from the Little Free Libraries. Get ready for the next newspaper box adaptation — one that’s painted lime green and smells vaguely of onions.

It’s called the Shrek Box, and it’s the new Philadelphia staple we didn’t know we needed.

Bella Vista resident Wil Keiper and his partner Lauren Devlin found the old newspaper box on the side of the road years ago, out of commission and stuffed with trash. He picked it up and kept it in his backyard for a while, until he thought of a higher purpose for the information dissemination artifact.

He painted it green, decorated it with the phrase “From our swamp to yours,” and added a likeness of the animated ogre in his uncomfortably tiny vest.

Placing it outside his home on 7th Street between Passyunk and Washington, Keiper on May 10 charged Philadelphians with a new mission:

“Leave a Shrek, take a Shrek.”

Credit: Ximena Conde / WHYY

Why? To Keiper, the more fitting question is why not. Shrek just happens to have a “big meme cult following,” Keiper explained. “It’s just kind of a funny random thing.”

In its three days of existence, the confusing command has elicited Shrek DVDs, handmade drawings, and onions. The box also went viral on TikTok, raking in more than 100,000 views in about 24 hours. Keiper said he can hear the hinges creaking all day long, with the sound of passersby cautiously opening and closing the box to check what’s inside.

“It really blew up,” Keiper said. “When I did it, I had no idea. I just thought it would sit out there and maybe get some giggles. But with everything online, it’s just non-stop outside my apartment.”

The box even got the stamp of approval from South Fellini, the Passyunk shop that runs one of Philly’s Free Blockbuster boxes.

If you peep the box for yourself, you’ll notice it suggests donating to the Venmo account @PhillyUnnamed. FYI: That’s Keiper’s personal Venmo account, which is also connected to the nonprofit Philadelphia Unnamed Film Festival.

The indie film festival is in its sixth year, and Keiper is its executive director. He’s currently fundraising for the annual event, to be held in September.

Although the Shrek Box shares a Venmo account with the film festival, Keiper insists the two are separate. If he gets any donations connected to the box, he said, he’ll use the cash to set up new Shrek Boxes throughout the city.

“It cost me money to put it together, so I thought if people wanted to donate they could,” Keiper said. “It’s just something fun to do. It’s actually bringing me a lot of joy. I’m glad everyone’s getting a kick out of it.”

Michaela Winberg is a general assignment reporter at Billy Penn. She covers LGBTQ people and culture, public spaces, and transportation and mobility. She also sometimes produces radio and web features...