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South Side Mission expanding outreach in Peoria's 61605 ZIP code in 2022

South Side Mission

The South Side Mission is relocating its Sterling Avenue thrift store location to Garden Street this year. It's part of an intentional doubling down by the not-for-profit faith-based organization's focus on the city's 61605 ZIP code.

Rev. Craig Williams, executive director of the South Side Mission, said the Sterling location wasn't profitable, unlike the War Memorial Drive store. Williams says that location generates enough funds to help the mission sustain or even expand its existing ministry.

"That was kind of the catalyst of getting prepared to look at another store. And then, most importantly, I think, because there was a need in 61605," said Williams. "And that's pretty much our mission, you know, moving forward, that we minister in our community, in 61605. And so it came about through prayer, and working with numbers with our accountant. And we believe that God ultimately gave us the green light to go forward."

Sherry Cannon, president of the South Side Mission's board of directors, agrees.

"The South Side Mission vision is to serve the people in that zip code of 61605. And so by bringing that store from Sterling to Garden Street, that's right in the heart of 61605," she said. "So it provides an opportunity for that community to take advantage of very nice used goods and some new stuff, to be able to purchase this, put them within walking distance."

Cannon said the move also has a financial benefit, as the South Side Mission owns the Garden Street location. The Sterling space was leased.

Williams said the South Side Mission also plans to build out a new youth center for the 61605 ZIP code.

"That was huge for us, to be able to create a safe place where our youth... especially what's going on in crime in the community, and through our mentor programs, we have to offer them the opportunity to come into a new Worship Center," he said.

The building will be dubbed the 1127 Worship Center, after the Bible passage Proverbs 11:27. It will also include a dining hall, and a youth culinary school.

"Not only are we going to give them a space to have a worship center, but also give them some autonomy, to do it how they want to do it. To be creative with it, to you know, to use spoken word to, however they want to do it," said Cannon. "Jesus Christ is going to be the foundation. But we also want them to be free to be able to worship in a way that that's going to be fruitful and exciting for them to do."

The South Side Mission will also bring its Greater Academic Progress tutoring students into the building, which will be remodeled to enlarge classrooms, and introduce a technology center, escape room, and virtual library.

"We wanted to make sure that we offered something that would also deal with the spirit of poverty, which is education, which is making sure that they had something that was not readily available in some cases and other places. So we begin to reimagine that space," said Williams.

Cannon said educational efforts are key.

"Education is the new currency. That is the way that this community is going to be changed. And we know the younger we can get to these young people in 61605, it's gonna affect the whole family," she said. "Especially when you have siblings, because if you can get one sibling, we got a whole family of kids coming in."

Williams said he's thrilled when he runs into former students and can see the difference the South Side Mission's programming is making.

"They're just excited it to show that they've done something with their lives. And it's positive. And it's not, you're not reading about them in a paper, you know, being slain or by someone's gunshot or even being a victim or the perpetrator of that same crime. So that's refreshing, and it's exciting," he said.

Click here to learn more about the South Side Mission.

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Tim is the News Director at WCBU Peoria Public Radio.