By Steve Tarter, (Peoria) Journal Star
PEORIA, Ill. — They might be considered the Three Amigos by the area’s hungry population.
But Bill Saathoff, 86, Art Jenkins, 86, and Bob Hellrigel, 82, are just three of the 50 volunteers who help Heart of Illinois Harvest transport food from stores and restaurants to food pantries in the area.
All three men have been volunteering one or two mornings a week for more than 20 years to the food rescue program that started in 1992 in Peoria. The all-volunteer effort transports seven tons of food a week, said program coordinator Tina Johnson.
“Our truck goes out six mornings a week, and we have a van that goes out four mornings a week for pickups. Some volunteers use their own vehicles.
“We don’t warehouse anything,” said Johnson, noting that volunteers pick up bread, rolls and packaged items donated by stores and take them directly to food kitchens operating in churches, schools and organizations throughout the Peoria area.
Saathoff, Jenkins and Hellrigel visited Hy-Vee, Schnucks, Apple’s Bakery, Einstein Brothers Bagels, Panera and LaGondola for pickups Wednesday before making deliveries to places such as Friendship House, Hurlbut House and St. Joseph Catholic Church.
Wearing bright blue HOI Harvest shirts, the three volunteers have become familiar figures at area stores and food pantries.
“They know us,” said Hellrigel, a retired letter carrier who’s no stranger to making deliveries, having done it for 31 years for the U.S. Postal Service.
The food that gets redistributed across the region fills a growing need, said Christy Cook, who chairs the HOI Harvest board.
“Our needs are growing like you wouldn’t believe. We don’t receive state money or United Way funding, so we’re always looking for donations and grants,” she said.
Cook said the community has provided great support for the group, citing Rocket Tire Service, 300 Edmund St., as an example. The tire firm has serviced the group’s vehicles without charge for more than 20 years, she said.
Along with continually seeking money to handle expenses, HOI Harvest also needs additional food donors, Cook said. “We get calls from groups and individuals looking for food all the time.”
HOI Harvest also tries to help out with special events, said Cook.
“We dropped off 3,500 pounds of food for the Mission for Mercy that’s scheduled to provide dental help for 2,000 people this weekend,” she said.
Additional volunteers to make the rounds also are needed, said Cook, who serves as a residential mortgage lender for Heritage Bank in Peoria.
“It would be nice if we had some additional people to give some of our dedicated people a day off,” she said.
While volunteers such as Saathoff, Jenkins and Hellrigel don’t take many days off, there’s an awareness that it wouldn’t hurt to have some backup.
“We’re going to wear out one of these days,” Saathoff said.