MARION -- Marion is one step closer to Heaven ... Heaven's Kitchen that is.
Sen. Dale Fowler (R-Harrisburg) announced this week that the popular Harrisburg weekly event will officially be expanding to Marion on Aug. 1.
"We are calling this 'Heaven's Kitchen Marion,'" said Fowler, adding that the Harrisburg event will now become "Heaven's Kitchen Harrisburg."
"We are hoping to have satellite Heaven's Kitchens throughout Southern Illinois," Fowler said.
The original event was started by the Fowler-Bonan Foundation with a mission to serve a free meal to all those in need once a week, supplementing other community programs.
Since its launch on Sept. 11, 2018, the program has grown, feeding an average of 200 people each week.
Marion businessman Jeff Diederich visited the Harrisburg location and knew he had found the opportunity he had been seeking.
"When I heard about Senator Fowler's program in Harrisburg, it just made sense," said Diederich. "I was intrigued enough to see it firsthand."
Diederich was impressed.
"I knew we could bring it to Marion," he said.
Along with his various business interests, Diederich has operated the Diederich Foundation for about 20 years, quietly donating to various causes and needs in the area. He said he had been "wanting to do something like this for many years," but seeing Fowler's program made him realize that it could easily be replicated in Marion.
"Jeff had it on his radar and I had it on mine," said Fowler. "We put it together."
Diederich said the process to establish the Marion location has been several months in the making.
"Everything kind of came together this week," he said. "We're still scrambling to get details worked out but with the major components in place we felt like we needed to move forward.
Heaven's Kitchen Marion will serve on Thursday evenings from 5-6 p.m., beginning on Aug. 1.
The program is a simple one. Heaven's Kitchen is open once a week and feeds anyone in need. That need is not solely financial, either. Some people show up with a need to be around others.
Fowler said it always seems that donations roll in to meet the needs of the program.
"If we think we might be running short on something, we just send out a Facebook note and all of a sudden it just flows in," said Fowler.
The Harrisburg location also has a table where various items -- boxes of rice, bags of beans, produce, etc. -- are placed, and those in need can help themselves.
"Big John's in Eldorado gives us 80-100 loaves of bread every Tuesday morning and we lay that out," said Fowler.
He expects that Marion will have a similar table. "As we move forward, that will transpire."
The pair anticipates that Heaven's Kitchen Marion will grow quickly.
"The population base in Marion is larger," said Diederich. Noting that there are several programs that offer free meals for children, he said the opportunities for adults are not out there. "I don't think there's anybody doing what we're doing."
Heaven's Kitchen Marion will, at least for the time being, be located at the Ministerial Alliance at 103 E. Calvert St.
"Our biggest concern is if we're going to outgrow the facility quickly," said Diederich.
He also knows that it will take a community effort to ensure success, but that's a concern he believes the Marion area is equipped to meet.
"There's a lot of people who want to contribute time to things like this," he said. "We're going to want to maximize people. There's a lot to be done not only for this program, but for the Ministerial Alliance."
Fowler said he is excited about this opportunity to expand.
"Just like the 'Clothes for Kids'," he said, "we started in one school and now we cover 19 counties."
Fowler said the partnership with Diederich's foundation "has given us an opportunity to grow."
To learn more about Heaven's Kitchen or to donate financially, visit www.fowlerbonanfoundation.com/heavens-kitchen.
A Facebook page for Heaven's Kitchen Marion is expected to be active sometime next week.