Mel Trotter makes changes to annual Thanksgiving festivities

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Mel Trotter Ministries finalized its plan for the organization’s annual Thanksgiving events with COVID-19 precautions in place.

The Grand Rapids nonprofit that serves individuals experiencing homelessness and needy families said its new plan includes many of the same elements with the exception that its annual Thanksgiving banquet will be held at Mel Trotter this year instead of DeVos Place, and the organization is planning to feed as many as 10,000 people — about 600 at the event and the rest via food pantry donations — instead of about 1,500 people at banquets in years past.

Beth Fisher Courtesy Mel Trotter Ministries

“In an abundance of caution, care and concern for everyone involved in this amazing event, including our guests, staff, community volunteers and all those who come to eat and enjoy fellowship on Thanksgiving, we have worked through the necessary details in order to continue this tradition,” said Beth Fisher, VP of communication and advancement at Mel Trotter.

The nonprofit’s annual Turkey Drop, a yearly event taking place the week before Thanksgiving at Celebration Cinema North and South locations whereby the community drops off either frozen turkeys or $15 toward the purchase of one, is set for 7 a.m.-7 p.m. Nov. 18. Last year, over 1,600 turkeys were donated; however, this year — the need is higher, so the goal is 2,100 turkeys.

Jeff Dashner Courtesy Mel Trotter Ministries

“We have already had requests from local pantries in excess of 2,050 turkeys, along with sides,” said Jeff Dashner, Mel Trotter COO. “We are already seeing a significant uptick in the number of meals needed for Thanksgiving Day.”

The donated turkeys, along with traditional side items, will be included in food boxes that will be assembled and distributed to West Michigan food pantries. Anyone who would have normally gone to DeVos Place for the annual banquet will now be able to receive a prepackaged Thanksgiving meal via any participating pantry.

“We are grateful to still be able to serve those in our community who would otherwise not be able to partake in a Thanksgiving meal,” said Dennis Van Kampen, president and CEO of Mel Trotter Ministries. “With the banquet in the past, we fed 1,500 people. These new necessary changes will allow us to feed 10,000 hungry people.

Dennis Van Kampen Courtesy Mel Trotter Ministries

“… The thought of anyone who would normally have come to DeVos Place to celebrate and be together during our annual Thanksgiving banquet not being able to do that this year due to COVID was quite frankly, unacceptable. We worked hard to find a way.”

Mel Trotter also will offer a Thanksgiving Day meal at its facility at 225 Commerce Ave. SW in downtown Grand Rapids for all those experiencing homelessness. Mel Trotter expects to serve close to 600 meals during the celebration, which runs 11 a.m.-1 p.m. Thanksgiving Day.

The approximately 500 community members who volunteer at the event each year will be pared down to about 25 people on Thanksgiving Day with others helping to prepare food in advance on Tuesday and Wednesday. The remaining pool of volunteers has been notified of another way to serve.

“We sent a communication to our incredible community of volunteers encouraging them to reach out to a neighbor or someone they know who might be struggling a little more than normal this year — someone who might not have loved ones with whom to gather — and bless them by bringing a meal or a pie to brighten their day,” Fisher said. “Additionally, our volunteers are encouraged to let the guests at our on-site Thanksgiving Day meal know they are thinking of them by sending in thoughtful video messages throughout the day and using the hashtag #MTMThanksgiving on social media.”

People who wish to become a Thanksgiving Day sponsor for this year’s festivities can visit meltrotter.org/sponsor.

More information about donating turkeys is at meltrotter.org/turkeydrop.

A list of local food pantries and distribution partners is posted at meltrotter.org/thanksgiving.

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