PEORIA, Ill. (WMBD) — Every week, 2-300 hungry mouths get fed at Sophia’s Kitchen, a mission of Sacred Heart Church in Peoria, according to its program director.

Almost 21,000 people, including 6,500 children, experienced food insecurity in Peoria County in 2019, according to Feeding America, the largest domestic hunger-relief organization in the country.

The food insecurity rate in Peoria County is 11.1%, slightly above the national rate of 10.9%.

“We just love to be able to hand people food,” said Clare Crone, program manager at Sophia’s Kitchen. “Healthy options are always the best. The better nutrition we can get out, the better for everyone. We’re past the days of that box of macaroni and cheese. Now we want to have something that’s nutritious. Some fruit, some vegetables.”

Crone said the Sophia’s Kitchen initially started as a sandwich program at the church.

“People would come, they’d be hungry, and Father would make them a sandwich,” she explained.

By 2010, Crone said they outgrew the church and needed more space. Thanks to a generous donation, Sophia’s Kitchen was born.

“We serve people for whom poverty will never end. The elderly, veterans, homeless people. We’re here to make sure that today they’ve got something to eat so tomorrow would be better,” Crone said. “We feed a generous sack lunch every day. It’s gonna have a peanut butter sandwich in it, and fruits and vegetables. Our cooks make soups, they just make some wonderful dishes.”

Crone said the “best part” of the program is the nearly 150 active volunteers.

Kay and Jim Schmitz of Morton started volunteering at Sophia’s Kitchen in March 2020. They said Sophia’s Kitchen is essential for the community.

“It’s a really awesome mission of the church. For a lot of folks this is their main, if not their only, meal for the day, so it’s a blessing for the Peoria area,” said Mrs. Schmitz.

“It’s very important because it serves an area down here where there’s a plight, there’s hunger, there’s a need for food. There’s a need for families that can’t afford to go to the grocery store, out to eat. This gives them an outlet for that,” said Jim.

In addition to the daily sack lunches, Crone said they host a food pantry every Friday. They also host COVID-19 vaccine clinics, with the next one on Thursday, Sept. 23.

On October 3, Sophia’s Kitchen is hosting Spoonful, a fundraiser selling frozen quarts of soup for $10. Tours of the kitchen and historic St. Joseph Church will also be available. Reserve your soup here.

Sophia’s Kitchen is open Monday through Friday from 9 A.M. to 3 P.M., located at 103 Richard Pryor Place in Peoria.