Too early to think Christmas?

This is what I know:

Mid-September is much, much, much too early to start thinking about Christmas. Especially when you’re a fall-lover like me.


Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer

But a friend of mine popped into a toy store a month or so ago – just after the school year began – and was accosted greeted by Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, his friend Hermey (you know, the elf who dreams of becoming a dentist), and the Abominable Snow Monster.

Too early?

Before the temperatures cool and the air becomes crisp?
Before the apples turn ripe and the pie is warmed?
Before the rhythm and routine of school and football begin?

Too early to start thinking about?
Too early to start preparing for?

I’m really not a Scrooge. I love Christmas. I love the love and the laughter and the memory making. I love the gifts and the giving and the stockings being hung by the chimney with care. And – oh, the horrors! – I love turning up the Christmas music before my Thanksgiving turkey.

Too early? Maybe.

But I also know this:


Courtesy Mlive Media Group.

It won’t be long before it is literally zero degrees here in Grand Rapids, with a wind chill that makes me feel like it’s thirty below. It won’t be long before the snow flies and the wind howls and there’s talk of an artic blast or snowpocalypse. And it won’t be long before more than 300 people – including more than 60 kids – seek shelter and food and grace in our downtown Mission.

That’s certainly something to start thinking about.
That’s certainly something to start preparing for.

Our shelter is busy year-round, but on the coldest, darkest nights of the year our beds are full. That’s why we start thinking about Christmas now. That’s why we start preparing for Christmas now. And we hope that you’ll join us. Over the next several weeks we will explore what it’s like to spend the holidays at the Mission and how you can help us feed the hungry, lift the fallen, restore the broken, and heal the hurting.

Even if it is a little early.

Real Change, Not Spare Change

Screen Shot 2014-10-09 at 11.36.23 AMI exit US-131 at Wealthy every day on my way to work and every day – just beneath the stoplight there – a man or a woman stands holding a cardboard sign, asking for a handout.

You’ve seen them too.

At the corner of US-131 and Wealthy.
At the corner of 28th Street and East Beltline.
At the corner of Breton and Burton.

How do you react?

Do you roll down your window and offer a dollar?
Do you busy yourself with the briefcase beside you?
Do you smile?
Do you look away?

How do you react?

There’s been a lot of thoughts and discussion about panhandling across West Michigan and the United States in recent months and years. In Grand Rapids, the result of those conversations has been Real Change, Not Spare Change.

What is Real Change, Not Spare Change?

Real Change, Not Spare Change is a campaign developed by the Heartside Neighborhood Collaboration Project, including Mel Trotter Ministries. The campaign is designed to provide the public with information on panhandling in our city and how to react.

Here are a few suggested DO’S:

  • DO treat individuals who are panhandling with respect.
  • DO answer requests for money with a firm no.
  • DO offer panhandlers and the homeless information on where they can get help.
  • DO have compassion. Donate to organizations that have a proven track record of helping the homeless.
  • DO volunteer.

And also a few suggested DON’TS:

  • DON’T encourage panhandling by giving money, food, etc.
  • DON’T assume you are making a difference when you’re giving to panhandlers, as you are inadvertently facilitating poverty.
  • DON’T assume panhandling is good for the community. It can lead to crime and lower the quality of life.
  • DON’T use panhandling to make yourself feel better.

There’s a better way to give. You can learn even more here.

Reverend Chico Daniels Resigns from Position

The below is a letter sent to our friends and supporters a week or so ago announcing Reverend Daniels’ resignation as President and CEO of Mel Trotter Ministries. We thank God for Reverend Daniels’ contributions to our ministry and ask for your prayers as we continue our work – uninterrupted – under the direction of our Board of Directors and look for his replacement.

Dear friend,

Effective September 15, 2014, Reverend Chico Daniels has resigned from his position and is no longer serving Mel Trotter Ministries as its President and Chief Executive Officer. This decision comes after much prayerful consideration.

Reverend Daniels has served Mel Trotter Ministries faithfully for more than seven years. He was instrumental in eliminating the organization’s debt against a very challenging economic background. He also developed numerous programs and services to better serve the homeless and hurting within our community. We thank him for his service and wish him the very best in his future endeavors.

We also thank Bill Jones, Vice President of Finance, Dennis VanKampen, Vice President of Programs, and Tim Swiney, Vice President of Development, for their support during this time of transition. These individuals will direct the organization and its daily operations under the leadership of the Mel Trotter Ministries’ Board of Directors. 

The work of Mel Trotter Ministries is valuable and life giving, and it will continue uninterrupted during this transition thanks to our talented staff and tremendous supporters. We will continue providing more than 73,000 bed nights for men, women, and children. We will continue finding employment for more than 55 individuals. We will continue locating permanent housing for more than 115 families. We will continue expanding our services, to offer help and hope to even more individuals than we did last year. Most importantly, we will continue demonstrating the compassion of Jesus Christ daily to the hungry, homeless, and hurting within the Greater Grand Rapids area.

Should you have any concerns or questions, please contact Tim Swiney at (616) 588-8768.

With God, our foundation is firm and our future is secure. Thank you for your continued prayers and support of our ministry and its mission.


Gordon Oosting, Board of Directors Chairman
(on behalf of the entire Mel Trotter Ministries board)  

How to Talk to Your Kids About Homelessness

Kids say the darndest things.

Do you remember that old comedy series? The one hosted by comedian Bill Cosby in the late 90s? Bill Cosby would ask a few children – usually between the ages of 3 and 8 – several innocent questions throughout the course of the hour-long program. The children would then respond to the questions, usually in the most unexpected and adorable ways. Each response incited great laughter from the audience and – most often – an embarrassed, did-my-child-really-just-say-that? stare from the parents.

A great example here.

Kids say the darndest things.

But they also ask some incredibly apt and appropriate questions too. Kids are curious and smart. They’re observant, and at some point in their young life – inevitably – they’ll probably notice the man or woman on the street corner and ask why?

When that happens, we’re here to help.

Here are several points to consider when you’re addressing the realities of poverty and homelessness with your children:

  • People fall into homelessness for a variety of reasons. Unexpected life events are most often the cause. What would happen if you lost your job? Or received a sudden medical bill? What would happen if you lost everything you had in a house fire?
  • Stereotypes concerning the homeless are not always accurate. There are actually a lot of kids who are homeless. Even in Grand Rapids. A student in your child’s class may be homeless. Read more about the more than 50 children at our Mission here.
  • But there is hope in the cycle and struggle of homelessness. A lot of good people and organizations are working to end homelessness in Grand Rapids and across the nation. Screen Shot 2014-09-15 at 11.18.05 AMThese folks – like Mel Trotter – are helping the homeless find jobs and housing every single day.
  • God loves us regardless of what we have – or don’t have. The homeless are loved just as much as those who have homes and cars and jobs.
  • Which is why we need to help the homeless. And there’s a lot of ways we can do that. Is our closet full of clothes we no longer wear? Is there food in our pantry that we could easily give away? Is there time in our schedule to volunteer? Is there room in our prayer life to lift up the homeless?

Questions? You can always talk to us. If a book would be helpful, consider The Berenstain Bears Help the Homeless, written by Jan Berenstain, or Hank the Homeless Pooch, written by John R. Erickson.

What Does it Mean to LOVE the Homeless?

This week Jodi Scholma, one of Mel Trotter’s family advocates who has been at the Mission for nearly 2.5 years, answered a few questions regarding her position at Mel Trotter Ministries and the work she does to feed the hungry, lift the fallen, restore the broken, and heal the hurting. Her work is significant and good and life changing for so many at the Mission. We are blessed to have her.

What are your responsibilities at Mel Trotter Ministries?

I am a Family Advocate, which means I provide childcare services to the young ones living at the Mission while their parents work in Mel Trotter’s 4×4 program, attend Bible studies, or search for work and/or housing. My work is supported by dozens of volunteers who help me with Bible lessons, activities, and trips to places like John Ball Zoo, the Children’s Museum, Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park, the Critter Barn, and the Public Museum. My responsibilities also include assisting parents in the process of enrolling their children in school and arranging for transportation.

What is the best part of your job?

I love watching children grow, both spiritually and emotionally. Kids thrive at Mel Trotter. They’re exposed to the Bible, some really great people, and a variety of community activities that they may not have had the opportunity to experience otherwise. I love taking kids to day camps and vacation Bible schools. I love watching them grow in their relationship with others and with Jesus.

What is the most difficult part of your job?

It’s difficult to work with parents who seem uninterested in their children. Many of the kids we see at Mel Trotter are starving for love and attention. It’s good to provide that love and attention while the children are with us.

What is your favorite Mel Trotter moment?

I was talking to a child about the story of Jesus dying on the cross. The child became very sad and said, “I miss Jesus.” And then, after a slight pause, he said, “I miss Michael Jackson too.”

In your opinion and/or position, what does it mean to love the homeless?


To love the homeless is to take time to sit and listen. I believe we are called to be active listeners. We must focus on the person in front of us. We must encourage with words of hope. We must show interest. We must show that we believe in them. We must get excited with them. We must be lovingly honest and Christ-focused.

How do you show love at Mel Trotter?

I show love to the children in my care by affirming them. I tell them how smart and beautiful they are. I tell them they are great artists. I tell them they are loved by God. I tell them they have talents. I tell them they are strong. I tell them they are athletic. I tell them they are good and kind.

How do you show love in your daily life?

I try to stay people-focused, even though I have a tendency to be introverted. I try to be intentional in my interactions, and I strive to put Christ first. I ask myself daily: how I can love this person right in front of me at this very moment?

What are other ways you’ve seen the homeless loved at Mel Trotter?

Staff members at Mel Trotter are incredibly gracious to our guests and give Christ-centered council and care. We see many of the same guests year after year and yet we always give them a second (or third or fourth) chance. Jesus provides new mercies for us every morning. We try to do the same at Mel Trotter. We are also very diligent in presenting our guests with the truth of God’s word.

Finally, what is your favorite Bible verse?

He who began a good work in me will carry it unto completion until the day of Christ Jesus. (Philippians 1:6)

Our deep thanks to Jodi for all she does for Mel Trotter Ministries and the people we serve. Her work is invaluable, and we are grateful to have her. 

More Than 50 Children Call Our Mission Home

Not 5.
Not 15.
Not 35.

Fifty. 5-0.

Does that surprise you? Discourage you? Make you pause?

There are 50+ children living at Mel Trotter.

50+ children gathering in our dining hall to eat their breakfast.
50+ children racing down our front steps to catch their school bus.
50+ children riding scooters through our playground.
50+ children running through our halls.

There are 50+ children who call Mel Trotter home.

The face of homelessness is changing in Grand Rapids and across the nation. Grand Rapids Public Schools reported in 2011 that 7.34% of students are homeless. And that numberlittlegirlatmeltrotter is growing. Mel Trotter has been making significant modifications to accommodate this change, but what does it mean for the future of our kids?

It means we have work to do, and it starts with awareness.

Mel Trotter is launching an awareness campaign this fall to Empower Families to Build a Better Future. The campaign is designed to tell the stories of our 50+ children, but also the stories of our talented staff that work daily to encourage, support, lift, and heal the most vulnerable among us. These are good stories about good people doing good things. They are also stories about God’s good grace.

Thank you for joining us in our work to demonstrate the compassion of Jesus Christ to the hungry, homeless, and hurting within Greater Grand Rapids. We hope you’ll check back soon for more updates.