Mel Trotter, Dégagé combine forces

Two nonprofits partner on services after WMU bought Mel Trotter building and parking lot for $1.1 million.

December 22, 2017
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Heartside Community Center
Heartside Community Center is a pilot project that provides meals, support staff and resources for emergency shelter. Courtesy Mel Trotter Ministries

Mel Trotter Ministries is ending its food pantry and day center services as they exist, instead partnering with other local food pantries and with the Dégagé Ministries day center.

This comes a year after Mel Trotter sold the building that houses its food pantry and day center services, along with the adjacent parking lot, to Western Michigan University for $1.1 million.

In 2016, Western Michigan University approached Mel Trotter offering to purchase the 6,500-square-foot annex building and adjacent parking lot, located behind the organization’s main buildings, at 225 Commerce Ave. SW in Grand Rapids.

Mel Trotter already had been considering whether the services housed in that building were needed. Surveyed clients said they used other local food pantries and would be fine without the Mel Trotter pantry; other local organizations agreed it was not necessary with Dégagé’s day center blocks away. After the research and “prayerful consideration,” Mel Trotter decided to sell, according to Dennis Van Kampen, Mel Trotter’s CEO.

WMU, which also owns a building next door, is taking possession of the space Jan. 1. The entire space is planned for parking, either a lot or garage, according to Cheryl Roland, WMU executive director of university relations, though a final decision has not been made.

The last day of the Mel Trotter food pantry was Dec. 14. The organization is continuing to use much of its food donations for meals served in the cafeteria daily. The remaining food donations are being distributed through Access of West Michigan and Feeding America to other local pantries, and Mel Trotter clients were directed to other pantries.

On Dec. 11, Mel Trotter joined the day center at Dégagé Ministries, 144 S. Division Ave. The agencies are partnering in a pilot project called the “Heartside Community Center,” a day center that provides meals, access to support staff, resources for emergency shelter and other services for individuals experiencing homelessness. Mel Trotter and Dégagé staffs now work alongside one another in the Heartside community’s only day center.

Bob Kreter, marketing manager for Dégagé Ministries, said he’s happy to see so many new faces since the change. He said clients in the community center become “family.” Even after clients find housing, many of them return to the center during the day to spend their time.

“For them, it is their community,” Kreter said. “Dégagé has sort of become their home. That’s where they go, where they meet their friends, where they hang out. It’s just a wonderful environment for people to come, be warm, feel safe.”

Kreter said the partnership was welcome because it’s always best to avoid duplication of services.

“It actually helps serve clients better because it gives them access to two organizations in one space,” Van Kampen said.

The two organizations will continuously evaluate the project and make updates as needed, ultimately assessing whether the partnership is beneficial for the clients and working for both organizations. There is no timeline for meetings or final decisions.

Van Kampen said the changes likely won’t result in significant cost savings; he said the decision was primarily related to efficiency.

“Really, it’s about being better stewards,” he said. “It’s about reducing duplication, having a greater and more positive effect on those we’re trying to serve, and becoming efficient by partnering.”

The purchase and combining of resources allowed Mel Trotter to hire additional staff and focus on other areas of need, such as providing more outreach in rural areas.

He said there were no financial hardships in play that resulted in the decision.

“This is a move from a position of strength,” he said. “Our strength allowed us to think about this and think outside the box.”

Mel Trotter had a total income of more than $10 million in 2016, including nearly $3 million worth of in-kind donations. In 2015, the organization had a total income of more than $11 million, including nearly $3.1 million worth of in-kind donations.

Mel Trotter’s two other buildings, which house offices and the emergency shelter, were not sold and will continue to provide programs and services for those experiencing homelessness.

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