In June 2014, a short 7 months after I arrived to Peoria, I sent out a heartfelt letter outlining some of the changes that the Friendship House Board of Directors and I believed necessary in order to move forward and continue to provide meaningful, life-changing services. It’s always tough to come into a new place and look at an honorable 60-plus year ministry and suggest changes. But the times and the need called for it. Please allow me to share one area of change that the Lord has overwhelmingly blessed!
For years, Peoria Friendship House provided a friendly and encouraging hot meal called “Sunday Blessings” on Sunday afternoons for up to 75 people. Whether they came alone or with their families, many families sought leftovers to sustain them at home.
We had to ask ourselves the question: ‘Are we helping to meet the need of hunger well enough in this community? If they are worried about where the evening meal was coming from, then one hot meal may not be the answer.’
Thus, the new “Friday Night Take Out” (FNTO) program was launched in August 2014. Open from 1:30 to 4 p.m. each Friday, the program provides individuals or families with a sturdy handled cardboard tote filled with take-home containers of prepared take-home meals for Friday night, as well as enough ingredients for the weekend’s six other meals, including nonperishables, fresh produce and bread. The prepared meals are homemade by a partnership with Southside Mission and their culinary program. The FNTO tote becomes the “club card” with which families return weekly to obtain food. While picking up food, families can choose to meet with community resources, such as Faith Community nurse, a legal assistant, nutritionist, and most importantly, a staff member who will assess families’ additional needs, discuss resources and set up a case-management plan. Diapers, hygiene kits and pet food can also be obtained, as needed.
Maybe they come because they are hungry, but might find an answer that will lead them out of hunger!
In 2014, Peoria Friendship House provided 28,724 meals; in 2015, 105,945 meals—or three and a half times as many—were provided! Households of up to 12 children are being served. Since January 2015, 1,102 first-time food pantry households have been served.
Between 1999 and 2012, child poverty rose from 21 percent to 29 percent in Peoria County, according to the 2015 “Illinois Kids Count” report. During the same period, statewide child poverty rose from 14 percent to 21 percent. In 2012, 14 percent of children in Peoria County were in deep poverty—below 50% of poverty level—compared with 9 percent statewide.
We believe that the Lord has asked us to take on a more aggressive response to providing food to this community. We also trust that He will be the provider as we respond to His lead to feed those who are hungry. Annually CityLink, Kroger and Cumulus Radio have sponsored the Stuff-A-Bus Campaign which has brought in literally tons of food! This year we received a $25,000 One Great Hour of Sharing feeding grant from the American Baptist Home Mission Society. Other donated food has been provided through partnerships with Heart of Illinois Harvest, Midwest Food Bank, Peoria Rescue Ministries, Peoria Food Bank, churches, corporations, schools and individuals.