Thanksgiving at the Mission

This blog post was written by Julee Wilke, a first-time Mel Trotter Ministries volunteer, regarding her family’s experience at our 2015 Annual Great Thanksgiving Banquet. You can view numerous photos from the event here.

Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. For years I’ve cooked and baked and served ahead of time so I could lounge in front of a television and watch parades or football and stay in my soft pants all day. That is until this year. My husband and I drove to Michigan from Indiana to meet up with our family and decided to spend Thanksgiving with 2,000 strangers and Mel Trotter Ministries. 

Julee and her family.

Julee and her family at our 2015 event.

After receiving our t-shirts and marching orders, we joined a parade of volunteers and headed to our table assignment. As our table filled and we began serving family style, the stories began to spill out. We became instant friends with Josh, Nick, Nathan, Anthony, and Dale. Before we event got to the pumpkin pie, it felt like any and all other Thanksgiving days around the family table.

Life is a journey, and we were blessed beyond words to spend this short lunch hour in DeVos Place with our family and new friends. Thanks to Mel Trotter Ministries for hosting and for bringing us together. On this day strangers became friends and this server learned the meaning of compassion demonstrated. No more lazy Thanksgiving days for us, as we will make this a yearly tradition.

Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday.

And this was my favorite Thanksgiving.  

Have you volunteered at our annual Great Thanksgiving Banquet? Do you have stories to share? We would love to hear them! Comment below.

Why Your Gift DOUBLES this December

Our Director of Communications and Marketing, Cindy Smies, recently chatted with Gordon Oosting, the chairman of Mel Trotter Ministries’ board of directors, concerning this month’s matching donation. Below are some thoughts on why your gift DOUBLES this December.

Would you please explain this match and why it was created? 
Every donation that is given to support the work of Mel Trotter Ministries in the month of December will be matched up to $150,000 by the Mel Trotter board and several other supporters. The purpose of the match – for the board of directors specifically – is to show our commitment to the homeless of Grand Rapids, to show our support to the staff at Mel Trotter Ministries, and to encourage other volunteers and donors to give as well.

Why are you choosing to support Mel Trotter Ministries? There’s so many other non-profits in this city!
Even as a child, I was familiar with Mel Trotter Ministries. My parents were big Mel Trotter supporters, and they encouraged their children in that work was as well. We were taught to care for the homeless and the hungry. The people so many of us don’t see. In my opinion, Mel Trotter was – and is – the best-run organization in this city supporting the homeless, hungry, and hurting. They touch hundreds of lives for Christ each and every day, and they answer God’s call to care for one another and to carry each other’s burdens. I sat on the board for one year before becoming the Board Chair, but it only took one year for me to realize: THIS WORK IS NOT OPTIONAL. It must be done. Lives are being changed here. Lives are being transformed here. And, most importantly, Christ is doing work here.

How can readers of this blog get involved?
Being a financial person (Gordon is a VP at Mercantile Bank), I would challenge our readers and supporters to consider giving to this December match. It’s hard not to see the value in doubling a gift. Everything goes twice as far! But also, get involved. Take a tour of the mission. Get introduced to the people we serve. Volunteer. Engage. Give back, and give hope.

The Mission at 100% Capacity

What does the mission look like at 100% capacity?

How many beds are filled?
How many meals are served?

During the holiday season it’s not unlikely – actually, it’s already happened – that our downtown mission reaches capacity and more than 120 women and children and approximately 240 men are staying overnight in one of our beds. Just last week, in fact, approximately 70 children, ranging in age from 3 weeks to 16 years, were sleeping at the mission.

What does that look like?
What happens at night at the Mission?

It’s a little different for men and for women.

Men come into the Mission around 4:15PM. They store their belongings in tubs and receive fresh scrubs. Dinner is served shortly thereafter, and then our staff and volunteers offer a series of helpful classes for guests to consider. Men might participate in financial planning classes, parenting classes, Bible studies, etc. Once those classes are through, the men go to their beds until the next morning. Breakfast is served before they head out to work, to find employment, to find housing, and the like. It’s important to note here that individuals who do not have work often have responsibilities around the Mission. They might work in the kitchen, work with our facilities department, etc. The same goes for our women guests.

Women usually come into the mission around 4:00PM. That’s when we see school buses arrive. Women and children will go to their rooms upon arrival to work on homework or to play. They’ll eat dinner around 4:45PM and, afterwards, participate in classes just like the men. After a good nights rest, women and children scramble in the AM – just like any other family – to get kids fed, cleaned, and ready for school. Can’t miss the bus!

What is Mel Trotter doing to get these men, women, and children off the streets permanently?
What is Mel Trotter doing to get these men, women, and children home for the holidays?

There’s a variety things:

  1. Many of the classes that we offer (and that were described above) encourage and support guests in their efforts to find more permanent housing and valuable employment.
  2. Our day center is open daily to provide shelter from the elements, but also computer and Internet access to locate job and housing opportunities.
  3. The food pantry at Mel Trotter provides families with a variety of nutritious items to help them prepare meals. This helps limit the expense of groceries.
  4. Our staff partners with various community organizations as well to help guests find employment and housing.

And it’s working.

In the last year, more than 160 individuals and families found permanent housing and more than 100 people found sustainable full-time employment through the work of Mel Trotter Ministries. Nearly 150,000 warm and nutritious meals were served and more than 4,000 people were cared for in our medical, dental, vision, chiropractic, and legal clinics.

And all because of our dedicated staff and gracious volunteers. Including many of you. This Christmas we’re grateful for each of you and the good work you do to demonstrate the compassion of Jesus Christ to all our guests and to end homelessness in Greater Grand Rapids.


To learn more about how you can get involved at Mel Trotter Ministries, check out our volunteer opportunities You can learn more here.

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.