Earlier this summer, Banu Hatfield learned four men experiencing homelessness had been staying in the neighborhood near the Zion Coffee Bar she co-owns with her husband, Mike.
When new construction forced the men to relocate, Banu regretted not making a better effort to help those unsheltered neighbors.
“I think I was just ashamed that I had not even taken the time to go and meet them and know their names,” she said. “That really, really convicted me, and I remember going home that day tearful and telling Mike we had to do something different and meaningful.”
That “something different and meaningful” became a partnership with Dream Center Peoria and Jolt Harm Reduction. What began as a pilot program bringing unhoused people to the Dream Center’s facilities for bathing and grooming, has blossomed into a fundraising effort aimed at purchasing a mobile shower vehicle.
“The big vision had always been: How do we figure out showers on a more consistent basis where we can take the showers to the people in need,” said Hatfield. “So we continued the dialogue between Jolt and Dream Center, and we decided it was time to put a stake in the ground and say, ‘We’re doing this together and I knew that that Zion could play a small piece.”
The total cost of the mobile shower unit and a vehicle to pull it is $70,000. With $20,000 already donated, Hatfield started a digital campaign aiming to generate another $5,000. That goal was reached in less than two days and the website had more than $6,100 in pledges as of Tuesday morning.
“I know our customers are very giving people. They care about the community. They care about everyone in the community, not just the ones like themselves,” she said.
Zion Coffee opened 3 ½ years ago, working with small growers from developing countries.
“Lifting people out of poverty is the reason that we started Zion,” said Hatfield. “I remember a few months after our opening, I think we had this realization that our responsibility was not only to those that we were purchasing coffee from, but really, truly our community as well.”
Hatfield said her involvement earlier this summer started by reaching out to those displaced neighbors.
“I would go and make it right and rectify with those four people and introduce myself and apologize that I’d never met them,” she said.
From there, she assisted Jolt with lunch services and was “blown away by the personal relationships” between the organization’s staff and the people they help. Eventually, that grew into a partnership with the Jolt and the Dream Center.
“I don’t know that I ever thought about homeless people and where they shower,” she said. “And because of COVID, some of the facilities that were previously available as simple as bathrooms had not been available to these friends who live in the streets of Peoria.
“So, we started talking a little bit about you know, what we could do for showers, and Mike and I both committed that we would try to find a solution.”
Hatfield said for the past 2½ months, she and Mike have helped Jolt and the Dream Center help about 40 people each week get the attention they need.
“Once a week, we go out, we use ... Dream Center buses and we pick up all of our friends to bring them to the Dream Center,” she said. “We provide clean clothing and showers for everyone who is there. The Dream Center is kind enough to keep their clothes and wash them. They bag them for them to pick up next week.
“They get food; we have volunteers to come in to provide haircuts and shaves. We have medical staff from OSF (Healthcare) come in for health checks. So, it’s just turned into this this beautiful couple of hours of restoring dignity for those people who desperately need just basic human rights restored for them.”
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