PINCKNEYVILLE, IL (KFVS) - A man from southern Illinois hopes to turn an unused hospital building into the largest homeless shelter and soup kitchen in the region.
Over the past 18 years, George Culley, 62, has ran the Least of the Brethren Ministry, food pantry, and soup kitchen for folks in Pinckneyville and the surrounding communities.
In September, the Pinckneyville Community Hospital opened it's new hospital and moved out of the old one. The previous building is more than 50 years old and could no longer serve the medical needs of the community, according to Pinckneyville Hospital Administrator Randy Dauby.
The Pinckneyville Community Hospital board has had talks about demolishing the building; however, no decisions have been made and it could be a costly venture.
Culley and his wife Betty of six years, have petitioned the hospital board to donate the old building so they can turn it into a 60-bed homeless shelter and soup kitchen.
"Thank God, God sends beautiful people to help us because Jesus said feed the hungry," Culley said. "Me and Betty are just the instruments."
"Just donate it to us. We're going to let the word out. God showed us a plan, Jesus showed us a plan that $600,000 you don't have to worry about it," Culley said. "Jesus said it would be a blessing from God."
He said the shelter would house people for up to thirty days. The Culley's would also operate a soup kitchen out of the building for people in the Metro East and southern Illinois.
The food pantry that triples as the Culley's home and sanctuary at Douglas Street, would continue to operate. About 10 people attend their services weekly.
"It's what we've been waiting for," Culley said. "Some of these people have been down, tried out. Everybody's gave up on them, society's gave up on them, but Jesus Christ – I've been preaching the gospel 30 years. He's not gave up on them."
The Least of the Brethren food pantry serves to about 300 families monthly including packaged lunches for children, Culley said.
Culley addressed the hospital board several weeks ago and the Pinckneyville City Council Monday, October 26.
Pinckneyville Mayor Robert Spencer said it's not a decision the city council can make since the building belongs to the hospital.However, one city commissioner did request a business plan for how Culley would execute a possible plan.
Culley said his faith in the lord is what allowed him to keep up the pantry on Douglas Street and he said God will provide for the shelter.
Pinckneyville Hospital Administrator Rand Dauby said the board will need to do its due diligence in inspecting the building and seeing if it would be feasible for Culley to take on the project.
"Until the hospital makes a decision, we think it premature to make a decision," Dauby said. "It's a discussion the board has to take."
He said it would be easy for the hospital for to just give Culley the keys but said it may or may not be the best thing for the community.
"There are some concerns and those concerns have to be addressed," Dauby said. "I think he has good intentions."
If Culley doesn't succeed, the building could become a city problem. Culley estimates it to cost $600,000 to demolish. Dauby said he didn't have a number but said it would be a "big price tag" to get the building up to code.
The hospital board chose move out because it was no longer feasible for the communities medical needs.
Dauby who said he was a Christian man like Culley, fears it could become a dilapidated building if Culley can't keep it up.
"It's going to be a big price tag," Dauby said. "The lord is going to have to provide hell of a lot money."
Currently, there are several things that would need to be fixed to get the building up to code, Dauby said. The boiler and elevators are broken and there is asbestos in the building. Also, he said the utilities are expensive to run.
However, Dauby said it would be easier for them to give it to somebody for free, but wants to be responsible about it.
"[The] easy way out is to give it away for free. But is that the right thing to do for the community?" Dauby said. "Needs time to do its due diligence."
Dauby said the hospital board will need time to think about what's next for the old hospital.