Denise Kooiker was perplexed when a friend, who is a teacher, told her many of her students had no school supplies for their first day of school. ”My heart broke. I thought there was no way a child in our local community would go without school supplies,” said Kooiker, recalling a conversation that took place six years ago, way before her own children started school.
That day, Kooiker became School Supply Santa, who volunteers setting up donation stations for school supplies in several districts in the area, including Byron Center, Godfrey Lee, Godwin Heights, Wyoming, Kentwood and Kelloggsville.
The supplies are then sorted and delivered by ‘elves’ to schools’ administration buildings where teachers can pick them up and give them to their students who are in need.
Ray Bruno, a literacy specialist with Godfrey-Lee Elementary, was handing out the supplies at a family night this week. “The children love receiving the supplies. They come running to the table and when they see the supplies, their eyes light up,” he said. “I’ve seen parents cry because even when they try really hard, they can’t afford to give them and they’re always so thankful to have that.”
Six years ago, Kooiker said she started looking at the growing percentage of students in poverty who qualify for the federal free and reduced lunch program. It struck her then just how much need there was out there. “Some districts are pretty high on free and reduced lunches. If they don’t have money for food, they’re not getting an abundance of school supplies, either.”
This year, Kookier estimates about 1,000 students will be reached through her efforts, including 353 who received backpacks. While at the beginning she was working alone, Kooiker said she now has elves in 40 drop off locations, and 15 businesses that support her efforts.
At home Kooiker has two little elves, ages five and eight, who love delivering the goods to districts’ administrative offices, where teachers will get them to use as needed. She wants all children to have the advantages her own children enjoy.
These are “simple things, like not being able to write a letter or to be creative because they don’t have supplies to do it,” she said, but they make a big difference. “If we can eliminate that burden from these kids, how can we not? There are so many things thrown at them. This shows there’s someone out there who cares about them.”
Connect:School Supply Santa