New Life Church of Faith opens grocery store

May 4—DANVILLE — And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. — Romans 8:28

When Save-A-Lot moved from the Heavenly Square Shopping Center to Towne Center, New Life Church of Faith was called to do some work.

The church worked through a six-year journey of trials and tribulations before finally opening Heavenly Square Grocery in the former Save-A-Lot spot this week.

"To God be all the Glory because there is no way that this would happen without the Lord," store co-owner and pastor of New Life Thomas Miller said. "He went forward and he is sustaining this.

"It (Save-A-Lot leaving) was maybe God saying you should open a grocery store and it was intimidating because it is something that carries great magnitude, but God was encouraging me. We did not have the knowledge, know-how or finances, but God made a way with all of that."

Luckily, Miller found an ally in his congregation in general manager Marcia Keys, who has worked at food service at the Vermilion County Jail for years.

"She was a godsend and was a key to working behind the scenes for the last three years," Miller said. "She has been at the forefront of making sure the building got ready with all of the clean-up and making sure that we had the equipment that we needed and all of the parts to make sure that we get open."

"We talked about it and he gave me a year or two to find and train staff and we built up a nice committee in 2018," Keys said. "From 2018 until now, all but me and another person have dropped off the radar. You can't blame them because of the time. I took ownership in this and only God gave me the strength and the time and the know-how and ability to turn this store to how it is now."

When they did take over the store, Keys knew that she had a lot of work to do.

"It was in poor condition when we started. It looks like a new store now, but when we walked it, I shook my head and thought I could not do this," Keys said. "We got in and we had a lot of talented people come in and give advice. We were able to get a lot of incentives, including one from Ameren for the lights and that helped us. I have been gathering information as we go along.

"I have been in charge of food service at the prison for 24 years, so I have done schedule-making and management, but I never ran a store. It has been a journey with a lot of stops and starts. I think we intended to open eight different times, but something always stopped it."

The store opening will make a difference in the east-central part of town. After Save-A-Lot's closing, the area became mostly a food dessert.

"This is the most exciting part because we are meeting a need," Miller said. "There are 11,000 people within a two-mile radius that do not have a grocery store to go to. We took the challenge based on the need. We wanted to make it so there is one less hardship for people in the area who are low income and do not have transportation to other stores. There are a lot of people in Vermilion Garden, Holiday Hills and Georgian Heights that can now walk to this store."

It all adds up in the church's mission to help the community, which Keys says is a different mission from other stores.

"Pastor Miller's take on this is that he wants to serve the community, pay the bills and pay the employees," Keys said. "He is more interested in serving the community and giving people jobs. Our distributors scratch their heads because we are doing that, but it makes things easy when you know the vision of the owner and I try to keep the vision in mind.

"He is the best boss I have worked for because he does not micro-manage. He told me what we wanted to do and he lets me do my thing and it give me the ability to know that he trusts me and it gives you more authority. He just trusted me to do things to the best of my abilities."

And Keys puts trust in two full-time managers and a part-time manager to fill in any gaps along with a staff that will be growing.

"It is a great opportunity and it is a great place to work," store manager LaWanda Rogers said. "I love that it is new and I love the owners. We have great management and Marcia is wonderful. We have new people in training and we are getting everyone situated."

"We put together a good team and we have a few applicants out there," Keys said. "We are proud of this place and I have been told that this is the cleanest store in Danville and we want to be the friendliest store in Danville."

The store had a soft opening on Wednesday and while the store is open for business with a time of 8 a.m-8 p.m. every day, a proper grand opening will be set for June.

"We had 204 people that came through for that soft open and I am so excited that we have finally opened," Keys said.

"It was kind of stressful and we were learning a lot and it was tough, but we were able to get through it," Rogers said.