PEORIA, Ill. (WMBD) — If you look beyond the skyline of downtown Peoria, of local restaurants, major corporations, and a booming hospital system, you will find a sector of the city that feels overlooked: the South Side of Peoria.
“Our goal is to help fix a broken part of this community and be a holistic part of healing people that have just been left behind,” said Sherry Cannon, the president of the Board of Directors at South Side Mission.
It is a sentiment that Cannon and South Side Mission Executive Director Reverend Craig Williams share. Every day as part of their outreach work with the faith-based South Side Mission, they see the struggles of this community firsthand, particularly in the 61605 zip code.
For context, more than 20% of 61605 households made less than $10,000 in 2020. That’s according to U.S. Census data. The national poverty threshold sits at $27,479 (in a household of two adults and two children).
“There has nothing been provided for our residents to be able to step out of their door almost to go shop at something that will provide affordable items to purchase,” Williams said.
Poverty and a lack of resources are contributing factors when it comes to crime, a reality the South Side has historically grappled with. But some newfound initiatives at the South Side Mission are working to change that, all by reinvesting from within 61605.
“When you’re talking about bringing hope, we’re not talking about patching up a building,” Williams said.
The Garden Street Thrift Store sits in the heart of the south side. With a pending groundbreaking in June, the building already owned by the Mission is expected to open in the fall.
It will join the two other thrift stores in Peoria and Morton, offering low-cost clothing and goods. The money will go right back into 61605 and the community resources offered by the Mission.
“We’re renovating to the tune of $1 million to ensure that they’re coming into something that speaks to who they are. That you’re important. That you walk in, it’s not going to be dirty. You’re going to be greeted with love and attention. And I think that’s what’s new,” Williams said.
The board was purposeful about having minority-led construction and design firms spearhead the project in the predominately Black community. For Williams, South Side Mission’s first Black executive director, and Cannon, the first woman and first Black board president, the representation was important.
“I believe that our life experiences and the journeys that both of us have taken as African-Americans bring a lot to both of our positions,” Cannon said. “Most of the clientele we serve are African-American, and we’ve been very intentional.”
Another project in the works inside the Laramie Street facility is the new Youth Ministry Center. It will offer a culinary department, tech center, recording studio, virtual library, and worship center.
“I love the fact that other little African-American children could see something and believe that they can be something also based on what they see. So if that helps to encourage someone else to want to lead and to want to have an opportunity to do something for their community, it means a great deal to me,” Williams said.
While there is still more work to be done on the Garden Street Thrift Store and the Youth Center, Cannon and Williams said this is a step in the right direction.
“Together We Rise means somebody has to go to the top first to help someone else to rise to the top,” Williams said.
South Side Mission staff plan to break ground on the Garden Street thrift store in June.