DECATUR — Have you seen the neon green school bus parked at Trinity Church of the Nazarene?
Inside, the eye-catching old school bus features shelving and a refrigeration system, the better to contain all the food it has been distributing for years to Decatur residents in need. It’s the vehicle of Hopeful Hearts Ministries, a collaborative not-for-profit organization run by volunteers from three churches who travel around the city in the spring and summer to help residents get groceries.
The ministry also operates a permanent food pantry at Trinity on 44th Street, right off U.S. 36. Volunteers open the church doors one Saturday of each month, offering food to anyone who can provide a form of identification.
“Since my husband lost his job in September, it’s kind of helped fill the gap that we have lost due to his income loss,” said Adrianne Price, one of those who has sought help from the ministry.
The organization is more than a decade old. It was formed in 2008 by roughly 15 members from Trinity, West Side Church of the Nazarene, Parkway Church of the Nazarene and Oak Grove Church of the Nazarene.
After Parkway closed last year, the three other churches continued to lead the ministry, and the permanent food pantry moved from there to its current home. The pantry includes handmade wooden shelves crafted by a member of the church, and there is a separate room for food that needs to be refrigerated or frozen.
The Rev. Justin Neufeld said 90 to 100 people go to the church to receive food each month. A service is offered to guests before the pantry opens, as Neufeld said he also wants to help people on their journey of knowing God.
The ministry buys food from the Central Illinois Food Bank in Springfield, volunteer Gladys Bublitz said, and food from a Bloomington pantry will arrive in April.
The public can get a look at the new pantry space this Saturday, when the ministry is holding an open house from 9 to 11 a.m. at Trinity. Breakfast will be served in exchange for a donation.
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Bublitz has been involved in the beginning, and she remembers when the bus was added in 2011, having been purchased from another church in southern Illinois.
"We had a bus that needed painted, and we didn't want it to look like a school bus," she said.
The organization has T-shirts the same striking green, so it is sort of the ministry's signature color.
The bus has three rows of seats for volunteers. In the past, the ministry has moved it each month, distributing food in different parking lots.
"This summer, that bus is going to be moving around more," Neufeld said.
Although plans are not set in stone for exact pop-up food pantry dates, the volunteers have been brainstorming ideas.
"What we're wanting to do is take it to different parks," Neufeld said. The group will fill the bus with food and set up at different locations. Neufeld also suggested the possibility of serving hot dogs in addition to giving out food.
Members of the ministry are always coming up with new ideas.
"We haven't even hit our potential for what this could be," he said.