GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — In a month dedicated to being thankful and displaying gratitude, local students learn first-hand the value of giving back to their community. 

Every year, students from Ridge Park Charter Academy decorate themed place mats to donate to Mel Trotter Ministries for their 23rd annual Thanksgiving Community Meal. 

This year, students decorated over 1,000 place mats for the event that happened Thursday, Nov. 28 at DeVos Place downtown Grand Rapids.

“I like the connection with the community that this project provides,” said Lisa Walejewski, paraprofessional at Ridge Park. “Our students look forward to this every year. They know they are doing this for people who are less fortunate and that their place mats will be featured at the Thanksgiving meal.”

The school has worked with Mel Trotter for more than a decade, decorating and donating more than 16,000 themed place mats during that time. This year’s handmade place mats feature Thanksgiving-themed artwork with words of encouragement and compassion, two of the school’s "Moral Focus" virtues, which are included in the school’s curriculum. 

“We believe everyone is made in the image of God and deserves love and dignity,” said Abbey Sladick, vice president of communication at Mel Trotter Ministries. “These place mats are more than decorations. They are a special touch to help our Thanksgiving guests know how much they are valued and that their circumstances don’t define them. We are sincerely grateful to the Ridge Park students for not only sharing their artwork with our guests but also taking time to share a meal and hear their stories.”

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