KENT COUNTY - She’s called the School Supply Santa, trying to meet the needs of students who don’t have what’s necessary to get through a day in the classroom.
Denise Kooiker is now in her seventh year, paying it forward to kids in West Michigan.
It’s an effort that began with drop-off locations at the homes of Kooiker and her sister.
Now, there are dozens of spots where you can donate.
“Seven years ago now, I heard of a need that, honestly, I didn't recognize was a need,” said Denise Kooiker. “When I was told about it I was shocked and I thought, ‘we live in west Michigan; this shouldn't happen here.'”
That’s when Kooiker made it her mission to collect supplies for kids who need them, an undertaking that’s grown every year since, with drop-off destinations including all 18 Kent District Library locations, Starbucks, even corporations.
“Those corporations, the employees within that, have also come alongside me and helped me, too,” Kooiker said.
What started with a few backpacks, quickly grew.
“Last year, we collected 354 backpacks and 27 ginormous-sized boxes,” Kooiker said.
Seven districts reap the benefits of the School Supply Santa.
“The districts are Kelloggsville Public Schools, Wyoming Public Schools, Godfrey Lee Public Schools, Godwin, Vista Charter Academy, Byron Center and Kentwood Public Schools,” said Kooiker.
Now, Kooiker is ready to expand her mission.
“Every year I pray about, ‘where am I supposed to go this year?’" Kooiker said. “My prayer is that there can be School Supply Santas in different districts. I'm one person and so I can't go to other counties, but I would love for it to go that way. That would be huge, an answer to prayer.”
Kooiker is not without help,you can call them ‘Santa’s little helpers,’ comprised of her children and a group of volunteers who pick up the supplies from the bins.
Once the supplies are collected and sorted, they are brought to the school district administration buildings where faculty, staff and administrators hand out the supplies, making sure the students with the greatest need are helped.
There is a School Supply Santa Facebook page.
Kooiker says once all the bins have been dropped off, the page will include all the locations.