February 2, 2023


Food loaded for bear

Cook who once experienced homelessness creates a sandwich to help Grand Rapids shelter

GRAND RAPIDS, MI – Miguel Morales, a cook at Downtown Peppinos, is very familiar with the help and hope Dégagé Ministries offers to homeless individuals in the community.

Five months ago, he came to Grand Rapids from Miami, Florida seeking a change and needed support from the group, who helped him find housing and get the job at the eatery.

“When I got to Grand Rapids, I didn’t have a place to stay, and they opened doors for me when I got here,” said Morales, about the nonprofit.

That’s why Morales and the restaurant wanted to support Dégagé Ministries with its mission. Last week, Peppinos promoted a $13 sub sandwich, created by Morales, called the “Miguel Sub” to help Morales in his desire to give back to the nonprofit.

Chris Cutting, general manager for Peppinos in downtown Grand Rapids, said Morales came to him about making copies of the specials menu that would feature the sandwich and distributing them downtown the week of March 1.

“Miguel said if we sold 200 of the sandwiches, he would donate $100 to Dégagé,” Cutting said. “So, I told him that I thought it was awesome and that we’d be happy to donate pizzas, too, regardless of any sales.”

The “Miguel Sub” is loaded with savory smoked turkey, ham, green peppers, banana peppers, onion, lettuce, tomato, house garlic butter and mayo. According to Cutting, the sandwich is still available upon request.

Although the restaurant did not sell the 200 sandwiches, the 186 sandwiches still made a difference said Morales, who plans to make his donation soon.

Even though Degage Ministries provides shelter for women in crisis, others can use their facilities to eat, bathe and network if needed. While at Degage, Morales would cook in the kitchen and utilize Mel Trotter Ministries, which serves men, for shelter until he was able to find his own place.

In addition to Morales’ monetary gift, Cutting said Peppinos will host a pizza party for the nonprofit organization, making an effort to further support them each quarter through the restaurant’s sales.

“Degage will be contacting Peppinos so that our pizza party would be best serving their needs,” Cutting said. “And we will probably do this quarterly with them to support their organization. And then when Miguel donates his cash donation, myself and some of our staff will be donating personally as well because we want to support Miguel with that.”

While in Miami, Morales worked as a truck driver and factory worker but soon grew tired of it and sought a change in Grand Rapids.

“I wanted to do something different, try to learn English,” Morales said. “Because in Miami, most of the people there are Cuban and didn’t speak English, so I wanted to come here to try something different.”

While working at Peppinos, Morales said he began to see a village of support between the restaurant and the homeless program to help him escape the hard times experienced when he first came to Grand Rapids.

“I’m going to volunteer and cook over there (Dégagé Ministries) for them two times a week,” Morales said. And that’s another reason why I like to work at Peppinos because they give opportunities, and it’s a big family.”

Dégagé Ministries Marketing Manager Bob Krater said that Morales makes the community a little brighter each morning.

“I have the privilege of getting to know a lot of people we serve,” Krater said. “The best part is every morning before I start working, I go in the dining room. I check in with a lot of people to see how they’re doing. And Miguel was someone who I started getting to know because he would do all the cooking. He would always say, ‘Hey, what do you want?’ And would start piling a plate full of food because he is just this loving, generous person.”

When Morales came back months later, Krater said he had this contagious excitement about him regarding his idea to raise funds for the place that supported him.

“When he came to me, he had already made it happen, I didn’t have anything to do with it,” Krater said. “He explained what he wanted to do, and he just went and made a ton of copies and blanketed the neighborhood. I told him that we were in a time where we need some good news, and we wanted people to hear this message.”

Last week, Krater said he ended up ordering 25 of the Miguel Sub for the patrons at Degage, detailing how special it was to see.

“This is something we do see, but not on this scale,” Krater said. “We have a lot of patrons we serve that give back.

They’ll get their check every week, and they will give us a few dollars or volunteer. We see that a lot, which is amazing and speaks volumes of our ministry, but we have never had a patron who, on their own, just went out and said, I’m going to make this happen. It started smaller, and then he just wanted to give more and Peppinos wanted to give more. It’s just a blessing.”

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