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Molly Crusen Bishop: East Bluff folks work to help others

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There are many people in Peoria who never travel through the older neighborhoods and could literally live here for decades and never see what large sections of Peoria have going on.

We hear things on the news and then we complain about crime or poverty, and then move along in a world that is pretty boring, thinking how smart we are for noticing the obvious. 

I remember hearing a quote once tat states if you are not a part of the solution you are a part of the problem.

There are truly special people being a huge part of the solution on Peoria’s East Bluff. They are doing an amazing job but they can’t do it alone. We all need to figure out how we can help uplift this and other historic heritage neighborhoods throughout our city. 

We all saw the pretty brick home at 506 Frye demolished last week. It made the news and was a topic at the City Council meeting this past Tuesday, with residents asking for a “cooling off period” on privately ordered demolitions. 

Tomorrow at 10 a.m. will be the first Historic House Heritage Uplift at 413 Illinois Avenue. The community is coming together for a work day to help save this house and uplift the East Bluff. We hope this is the first of many such days for all the folks in Peoria to help.

It also will be an opportunity to get to know some of the people, some of the heroes of the East Bluff – people like Willa Lucas.

Meet Willa Lucas

Willa Lucas is one of these heroes helping right up front and center. I met Willa a little over a year ago at the EBNHS office on Wisconsin Avenue. She is there quite a bit helping folks who live on the East Bluff. Willa also runs an East Bluff Facebook page that she regularly checks and responds with help or advice to residents’ needs or complaints. She also helps organize fun social functions and events with local police and politicians. 

Willa also helps a lot at the East Bluff Community Center and East Bluff Food Pantry, which are both located at the old St. Bernard’s School at 512 E. Kansas.

Beginning around 2009, St. Bernard’s School, now known as the East Bluff Community Center and Food Pantry, has been helping to uplift residents in the 61603 zip code in many ways.

The EBCC holds numerous functions that benefit the neighborhood. The Boys and Girls Club has events there, St. Bernard’s holds classes in another room. There are several mini library sections, including rooms that are used to teach English to Spanish speaking people. Radio station WAZU 90.7 FM is in one old large classroom and is a community service-based station.

The gym can be rented for special events for a very reasonable price. Some groups use the gym for basketball. I even saw a large garden outside the building.

Willa Lucas helps run the East Bluff Food Pantry, which benefits any residents in the 61603 Zip Code. I was lucky enough for Willa to take me on a tour recently and show me first-hand the needs of this area.

Running a food pantry requires many faces on hand to volunteer, collect and organize food, and find funds to keep the pantry running smoothly. Willa helps bring a cooperative effort for these things.  Many local churches help get food to the pantry, which is open Saturday mornings from 10 a.m. to noon providing food to dozens of people.

Please start to be a part of the solution. Some situations may appear too difficult but Willa Lucas shows us it is not. There are many ways we can all help uplift the East Bluff, such as helping organize and bag the food or passing out the food. You can donate non-perishable food items, cash or Kroger’s gift cards to help Willa get the food.

And you will meet people who will change your mind about some things in a positive way.

Please stop complaining and be a part of something positive instead!

Email ebcc@ebccpeoria.org to find out when and where you can start to donate some of your own time, talent, or treasure to make changes for the better. Please mail cash, check, or Kroger’s gift cards to the East Bluff Food Pantry 512 E. Kansas Peoria, Illinois 61603 or drive over and drop them off in person. 

About the Author
Molly is a life-long Peorian and an author, speaker, and storyteller. She is married to Doug Bishop and has five children and one grandchild. Molly loves history and Peoria and loves to share her passions with anyone she can get to listen to her. She loves to research, interview, and write or speak about history. The youngest and ninth child of Don and Joani Crusen, she grew up on the West Bluff in the house her great grandparents built in the 1880s. She writes a historical column in Woman’s View magazine, and will be writing a column called The Peorian Perspective in The Peorian.