Degage Ministries is moving forward with plans to expand services to the area's homeless and low-income families, made possible by a $6 million construction project.
"We feel strongly that God is calling us to this bigger role and now is the time," said Marge Palmerlee, Degage's executive director. "We need to be able to address those immediate needs and not have people sleeping in their cars, on the street and under bridges. We're excited to be able to address those needs that have been identified in our community that is vital for health and welfare."
Construction will start in the spring and take about a year to complete. The goal is to keep serving people during construction, Palmerlee said.
"The plan is to not have to shut down," she said.
More cookies, please
Plans call for the demolition of a portion of a red brick building built in the 1880s known as the carriage house at 139 Sheldon Ave. SE. In its place will be a three story structure that will include a kitchen to bake Pauls' Mom's Cookies that financially supports Degage's Open Door Women's Center, as well as double its capacity to shelter women from a current 40 to 80.
Currently, Degage borrows the use of a kitchen one day a week from Trinity United Methodist Church in Grand Rapids, but the demand continues to increase for the cookies, whose hard-to-resist flavors include peanut butter chocolate ganache, salted caramel chocolate chunk, lemon dream (in the summer) and oatmeal berry (in the fall), molasses ginger and mint meltaways,
Palmerlee would like to see the cookies' retail footprint expand once Degage's new kitchen is operational.
"We can grow it in a more sustainable way," said Palmerlee. "We'll probably add one or more stores. We have the kitchen obviously seven days a week so we can explore additional enterprise opportunities. I would love to explore ways where we can employ men to teach them skills also."
Connecting the buildings
The nonprofit also is renovating two adjacent buildings facing Sheldon Avenue, as well as its headquarters at 144 Division Ave. S.
The new structure will connect all of Degage's buildings and allow passage between them.
Larger dining room
Degage will move its dining room to the renovated portion of 139 Sheldon that will expand its seating capacity 50 percent, or 200 people.
"As it stands right now it's standing room only, so it will allow us to serve people in a more dignified way and they will not be exiting right out onto Division (Avenue)," said Palmerlee.
Also in the works will be a space for homeless people to recover following surgery or recuperate after an illness, thanks to a partnership between Degage and Mercy Health St. Mary's.
"As what often happens now, a doctor will delay the surgery because they don't have an adequate place to recuperate," said Palmerlee. "We will have a small area where someone going out of the hospital can recuperate."