GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — With 79 turkeys coming out of the many ovens of DeVos Place and incredible amounts of potatoes, gravy and corn to match, Mel Trotter Ministries continued their annual tradition of serving their community with a classic Thanksgiving dinner, free of charge.
“There are a lot of people in our area that are lonely, they're alone they are they are suffering from poverty, and they won't be able to have a Thanksgiving meal,” said Mel Trotter Ministries president and CEO Dennis Van Kampen. “For years, this has been a place where people can come together, they can have a meal, but they can also have community that they might not have otherwise."
The event ran from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. for families and individuals in need. The dozens of Mel Trotter staff members who made the event happen were assisted by more than 700 volunteers, a news release said.
Expecting as many as 1,000 to 2,000 people – whether it’s individuals experiencing homelessness, college students, or those who have been especially battered by rising inflation, Van Kampen said it’s a time for the community to come together.
“It doesn't matter what differences we might have, what we do is we celebrate this holiday together,” he said. “For us, it's an opportunity to demonstrate the compassion of Jesus Christ toward anyone.”
An estimated 1,000 chairs lay empty early Thursday morning, with placemats of positive messages made by students from Ridge Park Charter Academy.
Looking around the area, Beth Fisher, the organization’s Chief Advancement Officer, said the stories she hears from others reminds her that their efforts are well worth it.
“To hear a story and to just hear someone say, ‘You have no idea how much this means to me, we would not have been able to be with my family otherwise and to share a meal and to laugh around a table if you guys hadn't done this,’” Fisher said. “So there really aren't a lot of words to describe it. For me personally, I know this is a little bit like bringing the kingdom of heaven here on earth. That's what it feels like to me. It feels like demonstrating the compassion of Jesus I feel like he would. He's watching right and to say this is what it means to love your neighbor.
“It just warms your heart to see what is about to happen. In a few short hours when this place is filled with people looking for community and fellowship and a warm meal. And there's just nothing like it, you can't really describe the energy in the room.”
All of the cooking was managed by Mel Trotter’s senior director of food service, Stuart Christoff, who volunteered for the organization’s event last year.
As he cooks and delegates – he thinks of the children their food will impact them.
“There's so many that are in need of that family aspect,” Christoff said. “If they are experiencing homelessness, this is a place for them to come and build those memories so that those children don't grow up with a void or a gap of looking back and going, ‘This is something I didn't have.’ We're providing that for them.”
Christoff, reflecting on his own time, said the ministry is a special way to volunteer and grow.
“We’re always looking for skilled, talented young and hungry kids that are wanting to learn,” he said. “It's a great place to cut your teeth if you're looking for an opportunity and if your heart’s in the right place – and it needs to be. You're feeding people who definitely need that comfort and that meal so it's a it's really a great calling.”
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