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Coats for all

National nonprofit provides more than 400 coats

Godwin Heights — First-grader Gabriel Gittens eyed the piles of coats on desks in front of him and asked “What are we doing?”

“Well friends, what do you see?” asked Principal Mary Lang, for which Gabe and his classmates responded “Coats.”

Earlier this year, Lang was contacted by the national nonprofit Operation Warm. The 23-year-old organization manufactures coats and shoes for children in need, and has outfitted more than 4.6 million so far.

“Then the coats arrived,” she said with a laugh. “Boxes and boxes and boxes of coats,” — in fact, more than enough for the 416 students currently enrolled at West Godwin.

First-graders get fitted for coats that came from national organization Operation Warm

The coats were delivered a few days after the snowstorm that forced all Kent County schools to close on Nov. 18.

“We realize that some of the students already may have coats,” said Sarah Schantz, KSSN school community coordinator at West Godwin. “With the note home to parents, we are letting them know that this could be a second coat or that we tried to size them up so that the student could use the coat next year.”

Lang said that for many families, outfitting growing children in winter gear can be expensive. According to MI School Data 2021-2022 fall economically disadvantaged counts, about 92% of West Godwin students fall within that category, with about 85% of the student population eligible for free lunch.  

Winter: More Affordable, More Colorful

“My mom’s favorite color is purple, so that is why I selected this coat,” first-grader Cora Bonzelaar told Lang as Lang crossed her name off a list and cut the tags off her coat.

Once first-grader David Banuelos-Cano’s size was determined, he quickly snatched up and put on a green coat.

“All good?” asked volunteer Joy Peterson, to which David gave her a thumbs up.

First-grader Cora Bonzelaar tells West Godwin Principal Mary Lang that purple is her mom’s favorite color, so she picked a purple coat

Next up was Pamela Ishimwe, who was a little more selective and carefully looked over each coat. As Peterson pulled a blue coat out of a box, Pamela smiled.

“I had a feeling you would like the blue,” Peterson told her.

Meanwhile, Gabe was showing his new coat to his classmates. 

“I think this will definitely be my coat for the winter,” he said.

The national organization Operation Warm donated 432 coats, enough for each student at West Godwin
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Joanne Bailey-Boorsma
Joanne Bailey-Boorsma
Joanne Bailey-Boorsma covers Kent ISD and Godwin Heights. She was born in the Detroit area but grew up in Brighton where she attended Hartland Public Schools. The salutatorian for the Class of 1985, she changed her colors from blue and maize to green and white by attending Michigan State University, where she majored in journalism and minored in photography and German. She expanded her color palette to include orange and black as both her daughters graduated from Byron Center Public Schools; maroon and white for Aquinas College where her daughter studies nursing and also brought back blue and maize for Grand Rapids Community College where her youngest daughter currently is studying music. Read Joanne's full bio


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