Posted Online: April 04, 2014, 4:20 am

Rock Island church, Peoria food bank feed folks for free

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By Leon Lagerstam, llagerstam@qconline.com

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Photo: John Greenwood / jgreenwood@qconline.com
Quad-Cities coordinator Gene Smith and volunteer Ken Kopt remove wrap from pallets of food stored in the QCCA Expo Center in preparation for a food give-a-way. Heritage Church has partnered with Midwest Food Bank of Peoria to give away food once a month. This is the 13th month Heritage has been involved with the project. Smith said 23 organizations from the area receive the items.
More photos from this shoot
Photo: John Greenwood / jgreenwood@qconline.com
Volunteer Ken Kopf and truck owner Walter Lysell load food destined for the Watertown Food Pantry Thursday morning, March 27, at the QCCA Expo Center. Heritage Church has partnered with Midwest Food Bank of Peoria to give away free food once a month. This is the 13th month Heritage has been involved with the project. Quad-Cities coordinator Gene Smith said 23 organizations from the area receive the items.
More photos from this shoot
Photo: John Greenwood / jgreenwood@qconline.com
Watertown Food Pantry volunteer Tina Voss records the amount of free food being loaded into a truck by volunteer Ken Kopf on Thursday, March 27, at the QCCA Expo Center. Truck driver Walter Lysell will deliver the food for the pantry. Heritage Church has partnered with Midwest Food Bank of Peoria to give away food once per month. This is the 13th month Heritage has been involved with the project. Quad-Cities coordinator Gene Smith said 23 organizations from the area receive the items.
ROCK ISLAND -- It's not a truck St. Peter built, but a semi from the Midwest Food Bank in Peoria packs a powerful Gospel punch.

In John 21:17, Jesus tells Peter to "Feed my sheep."

Once a month, a Midwest Food Bank truck arrives at the QCCA Expo Center with about $100,000 to $130,000 worth of free food for Quad-Citians, thanks to a pilot partnership program with Heritage Church, based in Rock Island.

"We've been working with the Midwest Food Bank for about a year, and a few months ago, were asked to be a guinea pig for this new program," said the Rev. Eric Mills, Heritage's outreach pastor.

Discussions are underway about adding a second truck to the monthly delivery schedule, "so we are looking for more local food pantries interested in applying," Rev. Mills said. "The food bank there has been blessed and overwhelmed by food, and they want to give it away."

About 20 local pantries and food providers participate in the program, he said. Other interested organizations should call Heritage's outreach office at 309-732-0026.

The only big stipulation is that any food from the Peoria food bank must be given away, Rev. Mills said. It cannot be sold.

Other suppliers, such as Riverbend Food Bank in Davenport, charge a nominal fee for supplies.

Rev. Mills said the two food banks aren't in any competition. Both provide an excellent service, "and there's always a need for more food to feed the hungry."

Midwest Food Bank is a faith-based organization whose mission is to alleviate hunger and poverty by gathering and distributing food donations to not-for-profits and disaster sites without cost to the recipients, according to peoria.midwestfoodbank.org.

It requires participating organizations to sign agreements to keep food free, Rev. Mills said.

"The Midwest Food Bank is a class organization," he said. "I've been impressed by how they operate and function. It's been a privilege to be a partner with them in this way. Regardless whether a second load comes through or not, we do want to put together a comprehensive list of pantries."

Rev. Mills credited church member Gene Smith for putting Heritage and the Midwest Food Bank together.

"He has connections with the guys in Peoria, and this is something that has been on his heart for a long time," Rev. Mills said.

"For me, as an outreach pastor, I love to see God put something on someone's heart like this, and they follow through and do a fantastic job like Gene has done," Rev. Mills said. "This is a real testament to Gene's passion and heart for this. It has led to a real blessing.

"By getting $100,000 to $130,000 worth of food a month, we will have the blessing to give out more than a $1 million worth of food in a year."

Mr. Smith couldn't be reached for comment.

"What Gene has said this has done is obviously reduce the overhead of purchasing all this food and truly supplements the base of products pantries have," Rev. Mills said.

When church and pantry volunteers arrived at the expo center March 27, they took turns every 15 minutes driving their vehicles into the center and filling them with food, he said.

About 30 pallets of food were set up in a "U-shape" pattern, allowing cars and trucks to drive on either side, Rev. Mills said. Signs on pallets told how many particular items each organization could take.

"The QCCA Expo Center has been a great blessing to us, and we truly appreciate their willingness," he said, adding that deliveries generally are made on the last Thursday of each month.

Before the Peoria food bank started delivering, Heritage volunteers used to drive down with a flat-bed or covered trailer, and bring back six or seven pallets, compared to the approximate 30 pallets sent March 27, Rev. Mills said.

"People are truly glad to load their trucks and cars with food," he said. "They are so positive and thankful."