Nonprofit’s store serves up gifts, dignity during holidays


The Christmas Store only will be open for one day, Dec. 18, and shoppers will have specified appointment times. Courtesy Mel Trotter Ministries

For the seventh consecutive year, local organizations are partnering to help the less fortunate during the holiday season.

Dégagé Ministries has teamed up with area nonprofits to help homeless and low-income residents in the Heartside neighborhood of Grand Rapids to prepare for the holidays. For the past six years, Dégagé has been assisting those residents with purchasing gifts through its Heartside Community Christmas Store.

To participate, residents must sign up and live in the 49503 ZIP code area, as well as use at least one of the services Dégagé Ministries offers, such as meals, showers, laundry facilities or lockers. In return, they are granted access to the Christmas store, which is 100% funded by the community.

Residents who do not have cash can work at Dégagé Ministries in its job voucher program to earn money to buy items for their loved ones.

According to Bob Kreter, marketing manager for Dégagé Ministries, patrons can do 15-minute jobs such as sweeping floors, cleaning windows and grills, and vacuuming, among other activities. In doing one of those jobs, an individual can earn $2 vouchers they can cash in at the store to buy Christmas items. The Christmas Store will open Dec. 18.

One of the organizations that helps to donate items to the store is Mel Trotter Ministries. Abbey Sladick, vice president of communications at Mel Trotter, said MTM donates such items as coffee makers, toasters, microwaves, crock pots, toys, games, new clothing, shoes, housewares, sheets, toolkits, toiletries and small electronics.

“Our ministry believes in a hand up, not a handout, but we charge pennies on the dollar,” Kreter said. “The most expensive items are going to be $5. It may be a $40 item, but you are going to pay $5 for it. It could be a $20 sweater and you are going to pay $3. We have a structure that is affordable so that the folks we serve can purchase. The community is really generous. We end up with a lot of wonderful items.”

Sladick added: “The reason why we do a Christmas store versus a Christmas giveaway is to provide dignity and value to people who are experiencing homelessness. It is not a handout, it is a hand up. So, guests can actually shop and pay a significantly lower amount for the gifts, but they are still able to feel valued because they are able to pay for their gifts instead of getting a handout.”

Kreter said about 150-200 people sign up to shop at the Christmas store each year. To avoid the mad rush for the one-day event, he said everyone has a scheduled time to shop at the store.

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