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Community updates: Friday, Nov. 12

Mel Trotter Ministries, partners to expand winter shelter services for unhoused residents; GRCC, city to host training for local chefs to help after disasters; and Grand Rapids Public Schools seeking feedback on mask mandate.
The Grand River in downtown Grand Rapids, facing south.

The Grand River in downtown Grand Rapids, facing south. /Exeprience Grand Rapids

Mel Trotter Ministries, partners to expand winter shelter services for unhoused residents

Grand Rapids city commissioners on Tuesday approved a $330,000 agreement with Mel Trotter Ministries (MTM) to expand winter shelter services for unhoused residents in the city.

The expanded services will include more sheltering space at a downtown facility based at 200 S. Division, as well as day center accommodations and availability of storage for personal belongings for those facing homelessness.

The shelter is anticipated to open by Dec. 1, said Connie Bohatch, Managing Director of Community Services for the City of Grand Rapids. The city’s approved funds will support its leasing and operation costs.

Also providing support for the shelter are Kent County and Guiding Light Mission, which joined forces with the city and MTM last year for a winter emergency shelter.

We are happy to partner again with Kent County, Guiding Light, and Mel Trotter Ministries to ensure appropriate bed capacity is available and there is a warm, dry place to be during the day over the winter months,” said Bohatch. “The facility will operate as low barrier—meaning some traditional shelter rules are removed to encourage more people to come indoors, including providing lockers to secure legal items typically not allowed in the shelter and providing accommodations for couples.”

For the personal belongings storage, guests will have access to secured carts to keep their belongings in a safe place. The program is its first year being tried, with Grand Rapids’ Homeless Outreach Team coming up with the idea. During its interactions with unhoused residents over the last year, the team found lack of storage to be an obstacle for some going into shelter or work.

More information about the city’s Homeless Outreach Team is available through its online FAQ page.


GRCC, city to host training for local chefs to help after disasters

Grand Rapids Community College (GRCC) and the City of Grand Rapids are teaming up for a special training this month that will prepare area chefs to lend their skills to the community after a disaster.

The free Chef Relief Training will be taught by GRCC instructors on Nov. 22 and 23, with chefs from local hotels, restaurants, and hospital taking part. Requests are still coming in, according to GRCC, with participants to be announced nearer to the event.

Training for the chefs is based on celebrity chef José Andrés’ course, led by his nonprofit World Central Kitchen. The course prepares chefs to safely and effectively provide meals for communities in the aftermath of manmade and natural disasters.

“The WCK training will help us prepare for events that hopefully will never happen,” said Werner Absenger, Program Director for GRCC’s Secchia Institute for Culinary Education. “But should it, we will have a solid plan in place to provide food to aid first responders and the community in dealing with the aftermath of disaster and minimizing its deleterious effects.”

According to GRCC, chefs participating in the upcoming training will also share their results with the college’s Student Food Pantry.


Grand Rapids Public Schools seeking feedback on mask mandate

With the Kent County Health Department’s mask mandate for pre-K through sixth graders in the county ending Jan. 2, Grand Rapids Public Schools (GRPS) is looking for feedback.

The school district announced Thursday an online survey for GRPS students, parents or guardians, and staff, gauging support for whether or not the mandate should continue. Available at in English and Spanish, the survey will close on Nov. 23.

In answering GRPS’ mandate question, participants can select between continuing to implement a mandate, strongly recommending face coverings but not requiring them, or “Other,” with the option to leave a comment.

Ultimately, however, the decision on whether to continue requiring face masks in the classroom will rest with GRPS leaders and its evaluation of pandemic concerns.

“We will continue to monitor the data and guidance from federal, state, and county health officials to inform our decision,” GRPS Superintendent Leadriane Roby said in a Thursday statement. “My goal is to announce our decision on masking before the winter break.”

The district’s survey includes other, optional questions it hopes for feedback on, such as whether students have received or plan to receive the COVID-19 vaccine.

GRPS has also partnered with Cherry Health to hold vaccine clinics in all its pre-K through sixth grade school buildings starting next week. More details on when these will be held for each school are forthcoming, Roby noted.


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