Many Illinoisans are hurting financially, and southern Illinois is no different.
With the most recent figures available from the Illinois Department of Employment Security, the unemployment rate statewide is about 15.2 percent, which is an improvement from a few weeks ago, when it was at 17.2 percent. The number improved as the state began to allow more businesses to open.
With Phase 4 of Gov. J.B. Pritzker's reopening plan just beginning, more businesses should be able to hire back more employees, which is a wonderful thing.
In the meantime, though, plenty of people in our region, through no fault of their own, have had to rely on the generosity of others.
That's a role the volunteers of Heaven's Kitchen, which began in Harrisburg and expanded to Marion, have provided.
Heaven's Kitchen is one of many outreach missions of the Fowler Bonan Foundation, which seeks to improve the lives of everyone it can in our region. One of the Foundation's earliest missions, which continues, is the Coats for SI Kids. State Sen. Dale Fowler has told the story many times of how, as a child riding the school bus, he noticed that some other children simply did not have coats nor warm clothing to wear during the coldest months of the year.
When Coats for Kids started, children at Fowler's Eldorado grade school were the beneficiaries. Today, that program has expanded to numerous counties throughout the region, thanks both to generous donations by many and countless hours of volunteers. Some volunteers help families of children shop for new clothes and coats, while others deliver carloads of coats to area schools. While the timing and logistics of such an operation are challenging, they are just that: a challenge to overcome, and those volunteers find a way to make it happen.
Heaven's Kitchen is no different. The volunteers at both Harrisburg's and Marion's program don't have the word 'can't' in their vocabulary.
Reliable transportation sometimes is an issue. I've seen volunteers help jump-start a patron's car or make a phone call to find a ride. Most recently, RIDES Mass Transit District has provided transportation to Heaven's Kitchen.
When COVID-19 caused many businesses and community programs to shut down, Heaven's Kitchen for a short time was unavailable. Once again, though, volunteers came together to cook large numbers of takeout meals to be handed to patrons at the door or through the window of a car. Fowler and other volunteers have since found donors to provide additional products for take-home use. For instance, Cusumano and Sons Inc. of Mount Vernon has been donating fresh Prairie Farm dairy products and restaurant-quality produce.
There's a popular saying that "when the going gets tough, the tough get going," and I can't think of a better example than the volunteers and donors of Heaven's Kitchen. Two communities in an already economically distressed area are stronger today, during this time of a national pandemic, because the people of Heaven's Kitchen refuse to quit.
That's a lesson in serving others if ever there was one.