Members of the Vilonia Ministerial Alliance said an eight-year vision of having a community-wide food bank, clothing closet and thrift store may soon become a reality.
"It’s amazing what a tornado will do," said Pastor Greig Caswell, president of the Ministerial Alliance, to an audience of 30 or so gathered Tuesday to hear the details. "We have been working on this community-wide food bank for eight years. Since the tornado, it seems like things have been dropping in our lap. After eight years, we have a building. We realize we are going to start small but we have the ability to grow into a major ministry for the community."
Mayor James Firestone and the city council, Caswell said, have granted the organization permission to use rooms in the old city hall for the project.
Caswell, who is also pastor of Centerpoint Freewill Baptist Church, invited the audience as well as every church in the area to get involved with the project. Also, he extended an open invitation for clergy to join the ministerial alliance. However, he said, there would be no pressure put on the churches to do either.
"We feel strongly we can do a better job as a team though," Caswell added. "But, we are not in any kind of competition with the other churches."
Sharing the vision, Caswell said it is one where the thrift store will become so thriving that it will finance the outreach. And, the outreach, he said, will "go way beyond food and clothing" to include assistance with utilities, rent as well as counseling.
Caswell said he as well as other members of ministerial alliance have visited such operations in Morrilton, Heber Springs and Prairie Grove and have been impressed with the outcomes in those cities. Also, he said members of the ministerial alliance have been doing their homework and will cash in on what they have learned from the established outreach organizations. During a discussion, there were remarks about being a major impact on the community and "meeting the needs of the people," as well as an exchange about putting safeguards in place to stop any abuse of the services.
Regarding days of operation, Caswell proposed the facility to be open three days per week for three or four hours.
"You can volunteer as much or as little as you like," he added. Some were interested in the name that would be chosen for the project.
"We are open to names," Caswell said. "Whatever the name, I believe this will be one of the best things we have ever done in Vilonia."
Several touched on the matter of a timeline for being operational. In response, Caswell told the audience that would depend on finding the "right director."
The reality, he said, is that this is going to take patience, persistence, volunteers and the right director. "The right director may be here tonight or it might be someone in your church," he offered.
Listing qualifications, he said, it will need to be someone with a passion for the mission, possessing organizational and people skills who is capable of leading an army of volunteers. Ultimately, he said, it needs to be someone with time to invest in the project.
"Let us know — if you know that person," he added.
On a related matter, Pastor Jim King, of the First Assembly of God in Vilonia, reported on the Vilonia Disaster Relief Alliance, which is also headquartered at the old city hall and operates under the direction of the Ministerial Alliance.
"It’s underway," he said. "Caseworkers are out doing their jobs."
He also said there is money available to help some residents who were unable to receive help from other agencies.
"I’m very pleased with what they are doing," he added. "It’s ongoing. It’s well done. People are working 20 to 25 hours per week on this."
In conclusion, Caswell once again asked for the audience’s help. Up and running, he anticipates, the outreach could outgrow the old city hall. He asked for everyone to keep their eye open for a building that might be available. For more information on the project, contact Caswell at 501-472-9583.