GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. - The School Supply Santa has been working hard, collecting thousands of donations for families in need as children get ready for the school year. Denise Kooiker has been paying it forward to the children of Kent County for eight years now, hoping to bring some early Christmas cheer to the classroom.
"They call me Santa because we just leave gifts like he leaves," said Kooiker. "I leave the gifts, and we leave as a team."
School Supply Santa is an effort that first began in Kooiker's garage. Eight years later, the operation has grown to more than 40 volunteers helping pack supplies for children who would otherwise be unprepared for school.
"We have backpacks, pencil boxes, crayons, markers, pens, notebooks, ear buds, colored pencils, and binders," said Kooiker. "You name it, we've got it."
Kooiker and her team are packing 400 gift bags alongside 700 backpacks this year after accepting donations from more than 70 different locations. They're getting ready to serve 18 schools in nine separate districts within Kent County.
"What excites me is what it’s going to do for the child within," said Kooiker. "For me, it’s a heart factor all the way."
Being a parent herself, Kooiker understands the heart behind these gifts and finds herself overwhelmed by the intense need in Kent County.
"Parents can’t afford this," said Kooiker. "And to bring this to them and say, We still love you and you’re not forgotten, I pray they always remember that."
Kooiker and her team still add some final touches to make before giving out those gifts on Tuesday. She says the supplies are given to school administrators to ensure children who really need them receive them.
If you want to donate, you still can. Drop off donations at Byron Community Ministries, 8250 Byron Creek Dr., Byron Center.