Dégagé Ministries operates out of the Heartside neighborhood in Grand Rapids, a community with more than its share of homelessness and subsidized housing. Dégagé responds to that need by trying to, “reflect the love of Christ to all who come through our doors by building relationships and offering programs that foster dignity and respect.”
A prime example of this spirit is the Dégagé Dining Room. While many agencies offer soup kitchens to feed the needy, Dégagé has worked hard to meet this most essential need in a way that also instills dignity in their clients. The Dining Room operates like a restaurant. Anyone, from Dégagé clients to members of the community, can eat two meals a day there. But instead of lining up with a tray to get whatever is on offer, they order off a menu, just like at a restaurant. And when it’s ready, volunteers bring the food to their table.
Another key difference is that meals are not free. All meals at the Dining Room cost $2. And anyone who can’t afford that can pay with Dégagé Dollars. The Dollars can be earned by doing simple custodial jobs around the center. Dégagé generally offers 30-40 such jobs a day, most of which take around ten minutes to complete, and the pay is always two Dégagé Dollars, which is enough to buy a meal, rent a locker for the week, get a haircut, or do laundry. Regardless of how the money is spent, people using the vouchers are given the dignity of knowing they’ve earned what they’re getting.
Dégagé also sells the vouchers to people in the community, so that when they come across someone asking for change on the street, instead of ignoring them as we all too often do, they can hand that person Dégagé Dollars. It’s a way to give someone immediate assistance without feeling conflicted, and it can help connect them to a vital community service they may not be aware of. Since launching this initiative seven years ago, Dégagé has sold tens of thousands of their Dollars.
Another unique aspect of the Dégagé Dining Room is that it also functions as a community center. Volunteers and college students regularly host activities there, from Bingo to live music, turning it into a social venue for people from across the neighborhood. And once a month they host a big party for anyone celebrating a birthday. Honorees can bring a friend and are treated to a meal, birthday cake, music, and a small gift. For many, it may be the only acknowledgement of their birthday that they ever get.
According to Dégagé’s Marketing Manager, Bob Kreter, the atmosphere of community in the Dining Room provides both staff and neighbors the opportunity to develop true friendships with the people they serve, to reflect the love of Christ. And what’s more beautiful than that?