For political science major Derrick Mathis, giving back to the community has always been a priority. During his time at Grand Valley Mathis, a Grand Rapids native, spent time volunteering in the Grand Rapids Public School system and that’s where the idea for the iGREW project was born.
“I’m a product of Grand Rapids Public Schools and witnessed the overwhelming need some families have for basic necessities like food and clothing. That really had an effect on me,” said Mathis. “I knew I had to make a contribution.”
iGREW stands for In Grand Rapids Everyone’s Warm; Mathis said it was designed to serve children and adults who live in the community.
He sought help from friends Noe Islas, Chris Ake and Jay Starkey, executive director of In The Image, a program that supplies West Michigan residents with everything from clothing to appliances.
The iGREW members teamed up with more than 25 businesses, schools and organizations around the West Michigan area to set up collection centers and develop a way to collect and store coats.
Together they successfully reached their goal of collecting more than 1,000 new and gently used winter coats for men, women and children.
Mathis said he realizes the importance of a project like iGREW because when winter hits in Michigan, dressing properly is essential to remaining healthy.
“School is tough enough for kids when they have all they need, so to see children who worry about staying warm while getting to and from school is unacceptable,” said Mathis.
According to Michelle Miller-Adams, political science professor, Grand Rapids is a community with tremendous poverty but it also a community with a strong tradition of philanthropy and volunteerism. “In my opinion, you can never have too many groups trying to do good,” she said.
The first distribution of winter coats took place on November 5, and Mathis said the event was a huge success. The team is currently in the process of expanding the iGREW project in an effort to reach more people in Grand Rapids community next winter.
Miller-Adams said Mathis is a great example of a student who took his passion for social justice beyond the classroom.
“Derrick drew on his knowledge of community, his understanding of poverty in Grand Rapids, and his networks to do the homework necessary for a project like this,” said Miller-Adams.
After graduation Mathis plans to intern for U.S. Sen. Carl Levin and Michigan Rep. Harvey Santana. He also said he plans to continue to be a part of the volunteer efforts within Grand Rapids.
For more information on the iGREW project, visit facebook.com/igrew