The class objective was for each of the six groups in class to acquire $10,000 in donated goods for Mel Trotter, a Grand Rapids nonprofit that provides for the homeless and the hungry. After three months of reaching out to friends, family, and local businesses, the Aquinas students far exceeded that goal and loaded three trucks with their collected donations.
When their project started in August, no team thought they would get close to the $10,000 goal set by professor Mark O’Toole, Chair of the Department of Business Administration. By November, every group exceeded expectations and gained a tremendous learning experience through their collaboration with teammates to help those in need. The final amount was calculated by associating each item with a fixed retail value, which is lower than most store prices. For example, every pair of shoes was valued at $50. Perrigo Charitable Foundations, which provided the health supplies, estimated its contribution at $15,560.
Students moved quickly to pack donations in boxes before bringing them outside to the trucks. Clothes, shoes, business attire, canned goods, and health and hygiene products were loaded out of their storage room. Some of the piles of donated goods reached the ceiling.
When complimented for their efforts, students were quick to mention their classmate Olivia Sebright and her impressive contribution to the project. The sophomore student, majoring in business administration and communication, brought in more than $15,000 of over-the-counter medicine and hygiene products from Perrigo.
Sebright explained, “I went on the Mel Trotter website and read that toothbrushes and medicines were some of their client’s urgent needs. There is a Perrigo outlet store near my hometown. This was kind of what sparked me to apply for a donation.”
Three weeks after Sebright filled out the paperwork, Perrigo donated oral care products, and cold, allergy and cough relief medicines to fight Michigan’s harsh winter.
Other classmates showed great ingenuity in increasing the visibility of the project. Sophomore student Haley Goodenough used the Facebook page of her family’s Christmas tree farm in Galien, MI to reach 2,500 followers. Her mom shared Haley’s post about the need for donations to tree-loving customers. Soon, donations of clothing started showing up as the business’ long-term customers displayed their generosity.
In a different group, John Paul Strobel and his team of four chose to tape letters on the doorknobs of more than 100 homes in East Grand Rapids. In their note, the students explained they would be back to collect donations the next week. Through their door-to-door efforts, they collected about $15,000 in donations. Beyond that, the team spread the word through their personal contacts and gathered another $28,000 in donations, showing that personal connections are sometimes best.
Some students working in off-campus jobs collected clothes from fellow employees and company swag. Reaching out to athletic teammates and their families proved to be another efficient method used by most groups who received large quantities of shoes and clothes donations after Fall and Thanksgiving break.
In addition, the majority of students made great use of their hometown networks to expand their reach beyond Grand Rapids. As out-of-state sophomore student Charlie Stachnik explained, “I reached out to my barbershop back home and the businesses that I grew up around.” His teammates designed a poster to be displayed by these businesses. His barber went as far as setting up his shop to encourage his customers to participate. Charlie drove back to Aquinas from Cleveland with a car full of clothes and other items needed by Mel Trotter Ministries.
There is one strong consensus amongst all the student groups: community and word-of-mouth prevailed over social media. All groups observed that the majority of donations came from their neighbors and family. Students were able to collaborate with businesses thanks to preexisting relationships. This successful project represents the type of community that we have on the Aquinas campus: collaborative, hardworking, and generous. These dedicated students embody Aquinas’ Dominican pillar of Community.