Grand-om Acts of Kindness

Blogging about the good deeds in Grand Rapids.

Learning to Give

April 3rd, 2012

Grand Rapids Community College occupies 11 city blocks in downtown Grand Rapids – but its impact extends far beyond that.

As part of its Department of Experiential Learning, the college offers a Service Learning program that connects course material with identified needs in the community. The Department also teams with Lansing-based ePIFanyNow to conduct an annual community service event called “Pass it Forward.”

On a cold and snowy February 24, 2012, more than 100 GRCC students, faculty and guests gathered in small teams before heading out to lend a hand at 20 non-profit community organizations. Projects ranged from sorting food for a food bank and working one-on-one with residents of a local senior center to helping out at the Grand Rapids Home for Veterans and the American Cancer Society’s Hope Lodge, a home-away-from-home for adult cancer patients and their caregivers.

“This is the third year for Pass it Forward,” says Leah Kicinski, an AmeriCorps*VISTA member who helped organize this year’s event. “The goal is to create a chain of good deeds that encourages others to continue the actions.”

Kicinski says students always return from their adventures “enthused, excited and full of stories” they share at a group lunch wrapping up the event. “The idea is to relate what they learned from this experience back to their course work.”

One student said, “Learning is not something that is only found in the classroom, but is extended to every situation in our lives. Today we learned the value of teamwork – and the joy that comes from giving to help others who are in need.”

Not only does Pass it Forward help inspire others to give, it seeks to instill a lifetime habit of giving. That’s a lesson we can all learn!


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Picking for Pantries

January 28th, 2012

George Helmstead, Executive Vice President of Experience Grand Rapids, is an avid outdoorsman. So he was thrilled to find a charity that allows him to lend a helping hand while soaking up the area’s natural beauty.
George and his wife Jane volunteer for Feeding America West Michigan Food Bank. This agency provides food to 100,000 struggling West Michigan families through roughly 1,300 local pantries, shelters and other anti-hunger organizations. The food is surplus from area farmers, manufacturers, distributors, retailers and restaurants. “It would be sent to landfills if Feeding America didn’t intervene,” George explains. “Last year, almost 25 million pounds of food was saved from going to waste.”

The Helmsteads spent a number of Saturday mornings this past year in a farmer’s field, picking apples, peaches, sweet corn and other West Michigan crops. “I was amazed to learn that many local farmers have entire sections of their farms allocated for charity,” George says. “They let us go in and pick bushel after bushel.”

In fact, volunteers picked 42,000 pounds of fresh produce in 2011. “We really like the work and people we’ve met doing it. There’s always a contingent of Grand Valley State University students pitching in. We’ve even invited people visiting us from out of town to come out help.”

George and Jane have volunteered for many other charities throughout the years, including Gilda’s Club of Grand Rapids, where “we did everything from hand out literature to weed gardens.” But George says Feeding America has a special place in their hearts. “We are so fortunate to enjoy a wonderful lifestyle in this amazing city and we feel a responsibility to give back to those who are going through tough times. It’s the right thing to do!”


#1 Joel Fedorchak said:

Hi George, I represent "Michigan's Best" Speed Painter, Dave Santia. We have successfully helped to raise 1,000's of dollars for Michigan Charities ~ American Cancer Society, Rock 4 Tots, childrens Toothfairy foundation, Breast Cancer Awareness, Matrix Human Services & more.

I wondering how we may be able help by joining one of your functions. Some of Dave's paintings can be viewed at:
Hope to hear from You, GOD Bless,

#2 anonymous said:

But a smiling visitor here to share the adore (:, btw wonderful pattern.

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Kindness in Bloom

January 22nd, 2012

Flowers are synonymous with goodwill. They’re used to convey greetings, congratulations, sympathies and of course, love. So it should come as no surprise that an organization dedicated to advancing the floral industry would sweep into Grand Rapids bearing a generous bouquet of goodwill.

The Michigan Floral Association (MFA) is hosting Sell-O-Bration, the 2012 Great Lakes Floral Expo, March 2-4 in Grand Rapids. As part of the festivities, attendees are encouraged to bring canned goods or other non-perishable items for donation to a Grand Rapids food bank. Those who do will be entered into a drawing to win a free pass to the 2013 Expo.

“The professional florists who make up our membership are all local businesses that believe very strongly in supporting local communities,” says Rodney Crittenden, Executive Vice President of MFA. “From an association standpoint, Grand Rapids has been very supportive by making sure we have a wonderful experience every year with our Expo. This is our way of giving back.”

MFA President Alice Waterous suggested the Grand Rapids food bank tie-in, a first for the group. But it’s hardly the first time this 92-year-old organization has paid its good fortune forward. “Every year at the end of the Great Lakes Floral Expo, we donate all the extra flowers to local charities,” says Crittenden. “This year, we’re giving the flowers to the Grand Rapids Lions Club for use at their annual fundraiser.”

MFA also raised money this past spring for tornado disaster relief in Joplin, Missouri. We’ve been blessed to be able to work with a powerful God-given gift – flowers,” says Crittenden. “It’s very important to us to give back and help out when and where we can. It’s just part of who we are.”


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Secret Santas

January 20th, 2012

“Can I pay off some people’s layaway?”
That question, posed by a woman in her thirties to a Grand Rapids Kmart clerk, ignited a trend that made Christmas 2011 brighter for people around the country. “I just want to help people,” the mystery woman said. And so she did, paying off $500 in layaway bills for three strangers. The only clue she left to her identity was a note scribbled on each layaway ticket: “Happy Holidays from a friend.”

That kind of anonymous generosity attracts attention even in Grand Rapids, where good deeds are a daily routine. Local news reports inspired a man to visit Kmart the very next day and pay off 14 layaway accounts. It just snowballed from there – within one week, more than 40 accounts had been paid off at the store, with donations topping $5,000. Other area stores began reporting similar acts of generosity.

News of Grand Rapids’ Secret Santas soon went national with a spot on NBC Nightly News, which led to additional newspaper and blog coverage. That inspired anonymous donors across the country, from Chicago to California and Indianapolis to North Carolina. Kmart told USA Today in late December that more than 1,000 layaway accounts totaling $420,000 had been paid. The giving spirit was also extended to other retailers – including an Alabama Wal-Mart store where a man spent $11,000 to pay off 75 layaway items.  

“The phenomenon apparently began three weeks ago when a woman paid off three layaway charges at a Grand Rapids, Mich., Kmart,” confirmed USA Today. “Media coverage prompted a slew of copycat givers.”

Here’s hoping for more copycats next holiday season!


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