GVSU students collect winter gear to donate to homeless shelter in Grand Rapids

GVL / Sara Carte
Grand Valley students donate winter gear to Mel Trotter Ministries downtown Grand Rapids on Wednesday, Nov. 30, 2016.

Sara Carte

GVL / Sara Carte Grand Valley students donate winter gear to Mel Trotter Ministries downtown Grand Rapids on Wednesday, Nov. 30, 2016.

Shae Slaughter

Though Grand Valley State University includes a select amount of students, faculty and personnel, the areas surrounding campus include a wider variety of people. Some of those people, like some GVSU students, are disadvantaged or even homeless. The specific problem of homelessness is something that a few students in professor Brandon Youker’s BSW 317 social work class looked to address.

The idea came about as a result of a class assignment. From there, students Beau Laine VanSolkema, Devon Perry, Ashley Henke and Katie Szczesniak all took part in an effort to collect different types of winter clothing. They decided on donating the clothing to Mel Trotter Ministries, which is local to Grand Rapids.

“Our goal is to get coats, hats, gloves and scarves,” VanSolkema said.

Donation boxes were set at a couple of different locations throughout both Grand Rapids and GVSU’s campus. Wellness Chiropractic, the Apartment Lounge and the school of social work office at GVSU all hold these donation boxes which will remain until Friday, Dec. 9.

So far, a variety of items have been donated including but also ear muffs, umbrellas and blankets. VanSolkema mentioned that items like blankets and umbrellas were actually considered very helpful by many homeless people due to their ability to both break wind and keep them warm.

These donations will come as a welcomed help to Mel Trotter and the individual they provide service to. Abbey Sladick, director of communication at Mel Trotter Ministries, mentioned that the need for food, clothing and shelter increases in the winter.

“Any time the temperature drops we see it in flocks of people seeking shelter or food,” Sladick said.

Though temperatures in Michigan can get low in the winter, ValSolkema found through interviews with the homeless that Grand Rapids was still one of the better places to be homeless.

“One of the things I heard consistently was that some moved from other states because they knew this city could give them help,” he said.

This help is shown through Mel Trotter’s work with the homeless. The organization helps rehabilitate those in need while also providing food and healthcare. According to Mel Trotter’s website, 191 individuals and families have found permanent residence with the help of the organization since this January. The organization also provides a variety of counseling services depending on the needs of the individuals who visit.

“Our job is to be here as a resource so that we can rescue them from the streets,” Sladick said.

This aspect of reaching out to the community is something that VanSolkema does regularly and he believes is very important. Homelessness is something that he has faced himself and he wants to help others facing the same struggle.

“I think a lot of people just get up and some of us don’t realize how thankful we are for a lot of things,” VanSolkema said. “It’s hard to know you don’t have a home to go to.”

After the donation boxes are picked up, all items given will be given to Mel Trotter to add to their current supplies as the weather gets colder.

“We’re really grateful to our supportive community,” Sladick said. “For us to be able to provide those essential needs, it’s really a blessing to us.”