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Holiday heroes

Area students shop for presents with Wyoming officers

Leer en Español, traducido por El Vocero Hispano

Photos by Dianne Carroll Burdick

Multiple districts — There was a debate taking place in the electronics aisle of the 54th Street Meijer. Kelloggsville seventh-grader Alijah Juarez was trying to decide between a game controller charger or a Fortnite gift card for a Christmas present for his brother.

Luckily he had with him two Santa helpers, Wyoming Department of Public Safety Officers Anthonee Carringer and Matt Donker, who were there to help him make a decision.

“You know what we could do is get a $32 Fortnite gift card and then an $8 one, which would enable you to get the charger,” Officer Donker suggested to Alijah, who eventually decided against the charger.

Meanwhile, Wyoming eighth-grader Nyah Horan knew exactly what she was looking for as she charged ahead to the jewelry aisle while her Santa helper, Officer Tony Jacobs, raced to keep up.

“I want snowman earrings,” Nyah said, as she selected a card featuring several earring sets. “They are for my younger sister.”

It was the annual Shop With A Hero event, where 50 students from Godwin Heights, Godfrey-Lee, Kelloggsville and Wyoming Public Schools had the opportunity to shop with a firefighter or police officer from the Wyoming Department of Public Safety. With the help of Meijer and the Greater Wyoming Community Resource Alliance, each student had up to $100 to spend on gifts. 

“This is my absolute favorite event of the year,” said Public Safety Chief Kim Koster as she walked around the store visiting with students. “It’s a great opportunity for us to be able to hang out with the students and talk to them and make connections while helping them purchase presents for the holidays.”

Students in fourth to eighth grade were selected by their schools, with families notified of the opportunity by each school district. After families arrived at the Meijer store, students headed out with an officer to shop while parents and siblings waited in an employee room, where there were treats and a holiday movie playing.

“I think what is so amazing is that the students are so selfless,” said Officer Jenni Eby. “They are really thinking about their families and are focused on getting gifts for them.” 

‘This is my absolute favorite event of the year.’

— Wyoming Department of Public Safety Chief Kim Koster

Once students had selected their presents, they were checked out and went to a backroom where Wyoming Public Safety Department civilian employees and Grand Rapids First church volunteers were available to help wrap gifts.

“I think it’s great that they do this,” said Godwin Heights eighth-grader Jaelin Perez, who felt she and Officer Tyler Zbikowski made a great shopping team. “They did a good job and made it fun.”

Read more from Kent County: 
Windproof houses and trash collectors made of trash: students get creative through STEM
Showing them how to search, ask, grow

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Joanne Bailey-Boorsma
Joanne Bailey-Boorsma
Joanne Bailey-Boorsma is a reporter covering Kent ISD, Godwin Heights, Kelloggsville, Forest Hills and Comstock Park. The salutatorian for the Hartland Public Schools 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. Joanne moved to the Grand Rapids area in 1989, where she started her journalism career at the Advance Newspapers. She later became the editor for On-the-Town magazine, a local arts and entertainment publication. Her eldest daughter is a nurse, working in Holland, and her youngest attends Oakland University. Both are graduates from Byron Center High School. She is a volunteer for the Van Singel Fine Arts Advisory Board and the Kent District Library. In her free time, Joanne enjoys spending time with her family, checking out local theater and keeping up with all the exchange students they have hosted through the years. Read Joanne's full bio

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