A Publication of WTVP

‘We could blanket Peoria in mulch’

by Michael Miller | Photos by Ron Johnson |
Mulch mountains
Mulch mountains

But the real goal at Peoria Rescue Ministries is teaching job skills, providing hope to people in crisis

Peoria Mulch is improving more than landscapes.

A business created by Peoria Rescue Ministries (PRM), 1119 SW Adams, Peoria Mulch sells its product by the bag, yard or truckload, made from recycled pallets donated by Caterpillar Inc. It also sells collapsible, raised-bed frames for gardens and landscapes, converted from those same pallets. A woodworking center is coming online, as well.

But arguably the best products of PRM’s renewal programs are the improved lives of men and women challenged by life’s circumstances, such as drug and alcohol addiction.

“The whole purpose is to provide another pathway out of poverty,” said Bud Sous, director of the PRM enterprise programs that include the mulch storefront, Victory Acres, and the woodworking center.

Bud Sous, director of ministry enterprises at Victory Acres
Bud Sous, director of ministry enterprises at Victory Acres

‘A center for hope’

PRM helps struggling men at its Rescue Ministry and women at its Esther House who are trying to get back on their feet and be ready to face the world again. They also get job training at Victory Acres, where the mulch is made. Soft-skill development — showing up for work, having a good attitude toward co-workers, communicating effectively, etc. — is a part of that experience.

“We’re more than a homeless shelter,” said Jon Rocke, executive director at PRM. “We’re a center for hope. We’re investing in our students’ lives. We want them to be productive workers in the community.”

Rocke said that the ministry could help the participants in their programs find initial work with other companies, but prefers that they develop job skills in the same Christian context in which they started their recovery.

“This is a great, safe environment of care and coaching,” Rocke said. “They can put into practice what they’re learning.”

Victory Acres recycles wood crates and pallets into mulch for bulk or bag sale
Victory Acres recycles wood crates and pallets into mulch for bulk or bag sale

Doing ‘for others as others have done for me’

Income from the businesses also helps to fund the renewal programs that have helped people like Brittney. The 31-year-old woman arrived at Esther House last fall in a second attempt to escape her addiction to both amphetamines and opiates, including heroin. To afford her habit, she was stealing from family members and her boyfriend, she said.

A student tears down wooden crates and pallets at Victory Acres Peoria
A student tears down wooden crates and pallets at Victory Acres Peoria

Her program through PRM includes working at Victory Acres to build new pallets from old ones, prepare other pallets for mulching, and perform administrative tasks. But it’s also the spiritual training and counseling she has received that is propelling her toward a new life.

She’s not sure if she’ll stay on after graduation in September — many of the renewal program’s graduates are hired by PRM — but is glad the option is there.

“I love how once you graduate you can choose to stay connected as long as you want,” she said.

Marlin, 41, graduated from a renewal program and is now working full time at Victory Acres as a supervisor. After an alcoholism relapse, he found his way to PRM to get his life back on track.

He’s happy to “give back, able to do for others as others have done for me,” he said.

‘Business is great’

Income from the enterprise businesses such as Victory Acres and Peoria Mulch helps support PRM programs and covers the cost of housing and training for students.

There certainly seems to be a demand for their product.

Victory Acres has long taken used pallets from Cat and ground them into mulch for bulk sales to landscapers and companies, but the product was sold only on an “industrial level” from its Mapleton location. It didn’t become available to the public by the bag until January 2022, when Peoria Mulch opened. The business now provides delivery and installation, as well as free estimates for homeowners unsure of how much they’ll need.

“Business is great,” Sous said. “We left that all up to God and He’s bringing a lot of customers to us.”

The business offers two shades of mulch: natural and dark walnut. The natural in bulk is $37 per square yard plus tax, with the naturally colored dark walnut priced at $42 per yard plus tax. It’s easy to order on the website, where customers also can get their questions answered through the site’s chat function. Delivery is $37.50 for a minimum of three yards up to 12 yards. Over 12 yards includes an extra $25 fee. Installation is $32.50 per square yard.

The mulch also is chemical-free.

“Our product is premium,” Sous said. “Most others offer bark or soft wood mulch, which breaks down quicker. Ours will last a season or two longer.”

And they’re producing a lot, selling several semi-loads’ worth per week.

“We could blanket Peoria in mulch,” Sous said, smiling.

The raised-bed boxes also are proving popular, especially since they’re stackable. Besides retail sales, PRM is working to supply the boxes to food pantries around Illinois that teach their clients how to grow their own food. Northwestern University has bought 500 and the University of Illinois is interested in several hundred. Bakers Farm in Princeville has an order for 1,000.

The reclaimed wood center, housed across the alley behind Peoria Mulch in PRM’s former thrift store on Southwest Jefferson Street, has been outfitted for woodworking. That project has been somewhat delayed, however, so that the mulch business could be served properly. Still, decorative pieces are being produced by program graduates and trainers, with plans to create a storefront for the creations.

In the meantime, they’re busy turning out new creations: women and men with a renewed grasp on life.

Michael Miller

is a former Peoria print journalist who now works as an editor at Samaritan Ministries International