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A look at the new Hoopeston Multi-Agency van that was purchased thanks to donations from various local businesses and individuals.

The Hoopeston Multi-Agency recently purchased a new van.

Multi-Agency Executive Director Beth Knecht said the agency has had two vanes that it uses for its van service around the area for some time, one van that is used on a daily basis and a back-up van.

Rising maintenance and repair costs for the aging vehicles prompted the agency to consider purchasing a replacement in recent years.

“They’re starting to nickel and dime us and having break downs all the time,” she said.

Knecht said there had been a couple of times when both vanes were down at the same time and they had to cancel the van service while waiting for them to be repaired.

While writing grants over the last two or three years Knecht has been including requests for funds to broaden the transportation program and a little extra to put into a fund to go towards purchasing a new van.

Knecht said Iroquois Federal and First Financial Bank gave the multi-agency a donation to help start the savings account for the purchase of a new van. Ameren and the Community Foundation of East Central Illinois gave vital donations to help with the purchase as well.

The multi-agency saved these donations over the past few years and, in December, on Giving Tuesday, Knecht ran an app on Facebook to help raise money for the purchase and was contacted by Phil Trego, of Trego Farms, who had seen the fundraiser on Facebook and made a donation that helped the multi-agency to move forward with the purchase immediately.

“We also had several wonderful individuals bless us with donations that made it possible for us to purchase the van sooner than later,” she said.

The van is operated with the support of several donors: First Farmers Bank and Trust, First Financial, Iroquois Federal, Brunner Foundation, Gibson Health and Hospital, Carle Foundation, United Fund of Grant Township, Community Foundation of East Central Illinois, Vermilion HealthCare Foundation, Vermilion County Mental Health 708 Board.

“These donors make it possible for us to operate our transportation program on a daily basis,” Knecht said.

The van drivers include Steve Bane, who has driven for the multi-agency for more than five years, as well as Mike Bane, Pat Clingenpeel and Brian Williams, who serve as a back-up driver. Danny Danner retired as a van driver last spring.

The new van, a 2020 model, was purchased from Southern van & Mobility, Inc. in Breese, Ill.

Knecht praised the company for working to accommodate the multi-agency during the purchase.

“They were great,” she said. “They brought it up to us and everything.”

The new van arrived on Jan. 4 and was put into service the following day. It’s maiden trip took it to Bloomington for the month pick-up of supplies for the food pantry.

Knecht said feedback from van riders has been great.

“They’ve actually called in and thanked us,” she said. “They’ve talked about how much more comfortable it is to ride and it’s not rattling and bouncing them around. Kind of like a Cadillac is what I think one person called it.”

Knecht said the van provides a vital service for the community.

She said the van averages between 800 and 1,000 stops a month and helps local residents without transportation of their own reach their destinations around the city.

“The majority of them do not have any other form of transportation,” she said. “So they wouldn’t be able to get to the doctor or to the pharmacist or to the grocery store.”

Knecht said the service helps keep people active and engaged in the community.

“They’re not sitting home isolated or having to have people just drop stuff off or having to rely on somebody to come pick them up,” she said.

The COVID-19 pandemic has required some changes to be made to the van service over the last year.

Chief among these changes was an age restriction for riders.

Prior to COVID-19, Knecht said anybody could utilize the van service as long as they were ill and the van would occasionally, with permission of the parents, pick a student up from school if there was a special circumstance that required it.

“Now, with COVID, we don’t pick up anyone under the age of 16 unless they’re with a parent and going to health appointment,” she said.

Beyond the age restriction, Knecht said the multi-agency has also limited the number of riders who can utilize the van at one time.

While the van can seat 14 people, she said the pandemic restrictions limit that number to five at a time.

In addition to these measures, she said, everyone who rides the van now has to wear a mask.

Knecht said this has somewhat driven up the service’s expenses since they have to provide a mask for anyone who doesn’t have one.

After a rider exits the van, Knecht said the seats are sprayed down and disinfected.

Asked if statewide adjustments of COVID-19 response tier-levels would prompt any changes to the restrictions, Knecht said they’d consider changes as more information comes in from the state.

However, she expects the limit on the number of passengers will remain the same for the time being since the van is such an enclosed space.

To learn more about the multi-agency van service call 217-283-5544.

Knecht also asked area residents to consider donating to the multi-agency’s food pantry.

“We’re always asking if anyone has any donations for the food pantry,” she said. “It’s greatly appreciated.

Knecht said the pantry is in need of shelf staple foods and toiletry items.

She said the multi-agency also provides assistance through the Paul Manion fund.

Knecht said Manion started the client assistance fund a few years before he passed away.

She said they’ve be utilizing the fund more during the pandemic to help people in need.

Knecht said the multi-agency is support wholly by grants and receives no federal funding.

The Multi-Agency Thrift Shop is open five days a week from 10 a.m.-3 p.m. Starting Feb. 1, assuming the state’s COVID-19 restrictions continue loosen up, Knecht said they hope to lift the age restriction for visitors to the Multi-Agency office.

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