CHARLESTON — Eastern Illinois softball recently completed a fall service event as the 2014 Panthers volunteered at the nearby Standing Stone Community Center on Saturday (Sep. 28).
The Standing Stone Community Center (located at 201 6th Street in Charleston) is a new non-profit ministry featuring food, clothing and furniture. They also offer hot meals on the last Saturday of each month, as well as a "New to You Store," where items are available for purchase at a low cost.
As a team, the Panthers worked from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. as the squad was divided up into groups and stations – work began outside to unload the U-Haul that was stacked full of clothing, shoes, blankets, etc.
At that point, the clothes/donations were sorted and put into men's winter, men's summer, women's summer, women's winter, kids summer and kids winter clothes, and miscellaneous, while items that were not were boxed to shred for recycling.
The team then went through the sorted clothes and resorted them according to sizes (S/M/Lg/XL/XXL), placing them into their respective boxes. They then took the newly sorted boxes, and lined them up outside the doorway to the community center for those players working inside to utilize.
The group working inside the center took the clothes out of the boxes and hung the clothes on shelves to be sold, while also putting aside the summer clothing for use next year. In addition, the fall and winter items were then sorted and placed on the racks to be sold.
The Panthers got through so much of the donations in such a timely manner, that Haylee Beck and Carly Willert were able to take a ride in the U-Haul to load additional donations and bring back to the center for a new sort session.
The Community Center was so thankful and grateful for the team's help, telling the team that the three hours of work would've taken them at least a month or more to accomplish.
"Volunteering our time to help the community in need was a very eye-opening experience for our entire squad involved," said EIU assistant coach Stephanie Taylor. "I believe we all walked away a little more thankful for what we do have in life, as well as the sense of accomplishment for making things more readily available for others in the Charleston and Coles County area."
A local business, food bank and community center teamed up Saturday to provide food for nearly 130 local families in need.
With funds and about 10 volunteers from Mattoon Enterprise Rent-a-Car, several tons of food donated by the Eastern Illinois Food Bank and about 20 volunteers and space provided by Standing Stone Community Center, the day began early for both volunteers and families.
At 8 a.m. in the cool air, a white semi pulled into the loading area of Standing Stone Community Center, 201 N. Sixth St., and threw up its door, revealing row after row of pallets and crates of food.
Shuffling past each other, volunteers began unloading the food and unpacking the individual items, placing them on a line of tables snaking through the interior of the community center.
John Peeler, a coordinator from the Eastern Illinois Food Bank, named off all the items to be put out for those in need: 800 boxes of cereal, 300 boxes of crackers, 170 cans of peas, 160 jars of peanut butter and jelly, 300 cans of soup, and the list continued on.
By the time the community center was ready to open its doors at 9 a.m., a line of more than 20 families and individuals had wound around the building.
"I was surprised how many people were lined up when we got here," said Lindsay Cherry, a volunteer from Mattoon Enterprise Rent-a-Car who helped individuals sign in as they passed through the line.
Once the community center's doors opened, the mass of individuals began to file through the building, arms empty and ready to accept what assistance organizers could provide.
The number of people seeking assistance from local food banks has increased sharply this year, by almost 20 to 30 percent, Peeler said.
"Whether you think there are or not, there's a lot of people who have to choose between paying rent or buying food, paying their electric bill or buying food, or putting gas in their car or buying food," he said. "We're glad to be part of an organization that helps bridge that gap."
Volunteers moved their hands quickly as they loaded boxes and bags full of items for individuals.
One volunteer, Jen Laesch, of Charleston, has received assistance from local food banks before and said the experience of giving back to those in need was humbling.
"You don't realize, as a recipient, how many people it takes to put it together," she said.
Susan Taylor, a volunteer from Salisbury Church in Charleston, said people who passed through the line were very kind and considerate.
"Everyone has been so nice and appreciative," she said. "Almost everybody has thanked us."
Taylor also said she enjoyed striking up conversations with the individuals and sharing ideas about how to use the food in preparing different meals.
At the end of the line of tables stacked high with food items, several men from Mattoon Enterprise Rent-a-Car helped carried boxes and bags of food to individuals' cars.
Tom Price, of Charleston, carried the items he received to a van he borrowed from his neighbor.
Price works as a cook at Buffalo Wild Wings in Mattoon and said he recently had his hours cut from 40 to 50 hours a week down to 20 hours. He said the cut in hours has hit him hard.
"It's touch and go, but somehow we make it," he said.
Price takes care of his 30-year-old daughter who is disabled and said he has seen many families fall on hard times recently, but the food bank has provided vital assistance to those families in need.
"A lot of people either can't get out and work or they've had a backlash of problems, and everything is piling up against them, so this helps quite a bit," he said. "I'm glad to see it."
As he stacked a box of Greek yogurt into his neighbor's van, he said he and his daughter likely will not eat all of the food and that he will share the food with family and friends who are also in need.
"We all just pretty much work together," he said.
Dawn Thomson, executive director of the Standing Stone Community Center, said she was glad to be able to provide local families with the assistance they desperately need and to meet members of the community.
"It's uplifting to me to just say, 'Hey, I'm glad you made it,'" she said.
Thomson also said she looks forward to continuing to provide help to those in need for years to come.
"Anytime we can give folks a leg up, we're all about it," she said.
Residents in need of clothing and other household items are finding help at a local ministry.
Standing Stone Community Center, 201 N. Sixth St., is a non-profit ministry that offers low-cost clothes, furniture, books, movies and other household items.
For residents in need, individuals are allowed to choose up to five clothing items per month at no cost.
Dawn Thomson, executive director of Standing Stone Community Center, was inspired to begin the ministry after watching the movie "The Touch."
"As soon as that movie was over, it impacted me so much that I literally drew out what the plans to a community center should look like," Thomson said.
After drawing out plans for the ministry, she began visiting other local ministries to gain a better understanding of what needs there were in the community.
"The (needs) that kept coming up were low-cost or no-cost clothing and furniture," she said.
In November 2011, Thomson bought a warehouse with no water, electricity or gas lines.
"We started from square one," she said.
Thomson renovated a majority of the building, adding dry wall, lighting and bathrooms to create the look and feel of a store.
With the addition of racks she received free from a Mattoon thrift store that was closing, Thomson was ready to begin arranging donated items and open her doors to the community.
Most of the items Thomson receives are donated by residents who drop off items every Wednesday and Saturday in an enclosed trailer at the ministry.
"I have been really blessed as far as folks generously giving a little bit of everything," Thomson said.
Numerous volunteers help Thomson run the ministry. In total, volunteers devote between 60 and 90 hours of their time to help those in the community, Thomson said.
She estimates that over the past three months, the ministry has served more than 350 residents to find clothing and other items they might need. And with winter nearing, Thomson said she has been selling more cold-weather items.
Thomson said she enjoys watching children as they find an item they might want or need and seeing their faces light up.
"That makes it all worthwhile," She said.
Besides providing residents in need with clothing and other household items, Standing Stone Community Center is also preparing to provide food to residents the last Saturday of every month.
Thomson said weekend food services were another hole she saw in the community that needed filled. While residents can find food pantries open during the weekdays, Coles County does not provide any weekend meal services, she said.
Thomson is aiming to open the ministry's kitchen by the last Saturday of October and to serve food provided through a partnership with local restaurants or Eastern.
CHARLESTON — A movie inspired one woman to give back to her community. A year-and-a-half ago, Dawn Thomson saw a movie called, "The Touch." As soon as it was over, she began drawing out plans for a community center.
Standing Stone has been open about six weeks. It helps bring food, clothes and furniture to those in need. There's currently a soup stop open Monday – Friday. The goal is to have food available on Saturdays too.
To help, WCIA-3 News is having a donation drive Friday while we broadcast live for our evening newscasts on the square at 6th and Monroe. You can drop off non-perishable food items and toiletries like soap and laundry detergent.
Standing Stone Drive
6th & Monroe, Charleston
Friday, 4 - 6:30 pm
Non-perishable food items
CHARLESTON — Enterprise Rent-a-Car and Eastern Illinois Foodbank are teaming up to distribute a truckload of food from the Eastern Illinois Foodbank to area families.
The distribution will be held at Standing Stone Community Center, 201 N Sixth St., Charleston, from 9-11 a.m. Sept. 15.
All Coles County residents who meet income eligibility criteria are welcome.
Maximum monthly income per eligible household (each additional household member over eight — $611):
Income guidelines and household size are as follows: $1,722 for one member; $2,333 for two; $2,943 for three; $3,554 for four; $4,164 for five; $4,775 for six; $5,385 for seven; $5,996 for eight.
The distribution is part of the Foodbank's Foodmobile Program, a system of mobile food pantries designed to help bring nutritious food to areas of chronic or extreme need.
Through the program, local companies and organizations are invited to contribute toward a one-day distribution of food and optionally participate in the distribution process.
The cost to underwrite a Foodmobile is $2,500. This month Enterprise Rent-A-Car is making the distribution possible.
New data released this year by Feeding America, the nation's network of food banks, shows that a staggering 15 percent of people in eastern Illinois are considered food insecure, which means they sometimes lack adequate access to food. More shockingly, fully 25 percent of children are food insecure. Data comes from http://feedingamerica.org/hunger-in-america/hunger-studies/map-the-meal-gap.asp.
All eligible residents of Coles County needing food are welcome to attend the Foodmobile distribution.
To be eligible, a household must have an income at or below 185 percent of the federal poverty level, or approximately $3,554 per month for a family of four.
Other area Foodmobile distributions can be found by visiting the Foodbank's website atwww.eifoodbank.org and clicking "find help."
CHARLESTON — The non-profit ministry Standing Stone Community Center opened its doors to those in need June 13 and its founder plans to keep giving back to the community.
The purpose for the new community center is to provide affordable clothing, toys, books, furniture and other household items to those in need by way of the "New to You" store.
Dawn Thomson, the executive director of the Standing Stone Community Center and a Coles County native, said she doesn't want the center to be known as a thrift store; instead, she wants it to be looked at solely as a ministry.
"This is a ministry; it's not about making money. We want to help people physically and spiritually; that's our goal," Thomson said.
The center, located at 201 North 6th St., in Charleston, also doubles as a place where community members who can't afford a hot meal can eat for free. Although this portion of the center won't be up and running until July 28, Thomson said she feels hopeful that everything will come together.
The plan is for the meals to be served every Saturday from 11 a.m.-1 p.m. to complement the Charleston Soup Stop, which has weekday hours. Thomson said she wants to eventually extend the hot meals to Sundays as well.
Thomson said she is currently in talks with Eastern Illinois University to have students from different departments provide the food and services for the meals as part of a community service type effort.
The idea to build the Standing Stone Community Center came about back in February 2011 when Thomson said she watched the 2005 movie called "The Touch," about a church in Leesburgh, Fla., and how the church made it a mission to help people in need. Thomson said she knew after watching that movie that it was her calling to build the Standing Stone Community Center.
"I truly believe that was my calling from God," Thomson said.
Filling a void that Charleston and Coles County had was something Thomson said she needed to do.
"I can't stress the amount of need in the community for a place like this. Some choose to ignore it and others choose to help and I'm one of those who chose to help," Thomson said. "I'm one of those people that if I say I'm going to do something, I will do it."
In order to fund the center, Thomson said she took money out of her savings account and took out loans. The funding has strictly come out of Thomson's pocket and she said the Standing Stone Community Center is not affiliated with a specific church or denomination.
All the money received from the "New to You" store and community donations go toward keeping the center running, Thomson said.
The Standing Stone Community Center is open Wednesday-Saturday and will take donations for the "New to You" store on only Wednesdays and Saturdays. Thomson said donations are done this way in order to keep it manageable since she is the only employee who works at the center.
Volunteers and donations are welcome and Thomson said she hopes to continue her efforts in helping the community for as long as possible.
"We hope to be a light in the community and to be here for a long, long time," Thomson said.
The Student Community Service office will be having its annual Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service on Monday.
The service to commemorate Martin Luther King Jr. will be from 1 to 4 p.m.
Rachel Fisher, the director of the Student Community Service office, said this is the 26th anniversary of the Martin Luther King Jr. federal holiday.
"Since 1994 it has been highly encouraged to be a day of service," Fisher said. "So here at the university the last few years, our office has coordinated MLK Jr. Day of Service."
Fisher said there are different projects that will interest the many different students on campus.
"This year is by far the richest year of service we have," Fisher said. "We have nine service projects."
The projects range from seed sorting, to making teddy bears, to giving an elementary school a makeover. Volunteers will help sort clothes and donations at the Catholic Charities.
The Charleston Fire Department will also work with volunteers to hand out fire safety kits to the community.
Volunteers will help paint, organize and clean Standing Stone, a new community donation center.
CHARLESTON — Standing Stone founder Dawn Thomas plans to offer a nonprofit clothing and furniture ministry for Charleston area residents in financial need, who currently must drive to Mattoon for such services.
In addition, Thomas intends to complement the food ministry offered during the week at the Charleston Soup Stop by serving up hot meals at no cost to people in need on Saturdays and eventually Sundays. She hopes to open the volunteer-staffed Standing Stone center near Christmas in a former commercial building at 201 N. Sixth St.