PEORIA — As many as 108 low-income residents in Peoria will soon have new jobs at a Morton company thanks to an agreement inked between the food-preparation and packaging firm and a South Peoria not-for-profit.

RMH Foods in Morton will employ the workers hired through applications at Helping Hands Resource Center, all of whom live in the high-unemployment Peoria ZIP codes of 61605, 61604 and 61603.

It could bring up to $1.9 million in new money to the city's south side through salaries, Helping Hands director of programs Ron Valle said Wednesday.

"We're just really happy and ecstatic," he said. "I don't think we truly understand the impact it'll have in 61605."

That region in particular has high unemployment, with higher rates still — 57 percent — for African-American men.

The company, which started as Rocke's Cold Storage butcher shop in 1937, has evolved into a food production facility. Meats, grains and vegetables for refrigerated entrees, as well as other products, are prepared at the plant at 375 Erie Ave. in Morton and are shipped throughout the United States.

The company's busiest season runs from October through January because of the holidays, owners said several years ago.

More than a dozen Peorians have already started work there, Valle said, with a further 17 slated to begin next week, and new employees being added every two weeks.

"I think this is what we aim for, is to make movements instead of just talking," Valle said.

His agency is also providing transportation from South Peoria to the plant, because transportation is often a key barrier for low-income individuals seeking work. Helping Hands has also been providing financial literacy training and working with an area bank to help employees set up savings accounts.

After 90 days on the job, the Peoria residents will be eligible to be hired on a permanent basis. Starting pay is between $9.25 and $10 an hour, depending upon the shifts worked, and Valle said that so far employees have also been receiving overtime pay, with an average of more than 50 hours a week worked.

Applications will still be taken for at least the next few weeks through Oct. 15, Valle said, and those interested can fill them out in person at Helping Hands, 1211 S. Blaine St., on weekdays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.

Valle said potential employees will be considered regardless of criminal background — excepting murder convictions and recent cases within the past 30 days.

Chris Kaergard can be reached at or 686-3255. Follow him on Twitter @ChrisKaergard.