- Associated Press - Tuesday, January 27, 2015

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (AP) - After 20 years of helping keep needy students warm and dry with much-needed coats and other winter wear, the charity program Sitty’s Wish is closing after this winter.

The program has been a resource for Grand Rapids Public Schools primary and secondary students, but it has also provided coats, mittens, gloves and snow pants to other Kent County students, according to The Grand Rapids Press (https://bit.ly/1yShwrb ).

“Many of the kids in our school systems need coats and the other winter wear,” said Andrea Schaab, who has run the program for five years with the support of Sandy De Vormer. “The social workers, nurses, others who come pick up the items are so grateful we’re here to fill the gap for kids.”

But Schaab, 70, wants to retire and the program’s demise is being spurred by dried-up funding and the lack of a storage location from which to operate. There is no longer room in the GRPS warehouse on the facilities campus that has been used for years, Schaab said.

“I am hoping that someone will … want to carry on the program,” she said.

That’s what happened five years ago when the founder Kathryn Ball announced she was ending her involvement. Schaab stepped forward to take the reins of the program, which is named after the Armenian word for grandmother.

She said the program has managed for years on donations, including from its primary financial donor, the social sorority Beta Sigma Phi, and the generosity of a man who provided as many as a 100 brand new coats each season. Schaab said the sorority can no longer provide funds and the other primary benefactor will no longer be a supplier due to an illness.

“This has been very rewarding work,” said De Vormer. “That was very exciting for me to see how happy it made them.”

She said she is willing to continue to help out, if someone is willing to take over, but says that she is physically unable to do it.

“It feels good to do something for other people,” said Schaab, who said she has given out more than 200 coats this season while averaging around 300 in recent years.

John Helmholdt, the Grand Rapids schools spokesman, said it’s hard to have a program that’s been around for so long and helped so many.

“We are just extremely grateful for the generosity and support that Sitty’s Wish and all its donors have made for our students,” he said. “It will always be in the hearts and minds of the students and staff of the district.”

Ball, who was an assistant to former district facilities manager David Smith, said she started the charity after a little girl was hurt on an elementary playground and she found out all the things she needed, including a coat. She said Smith was supportive of her efforts.

“It’s too bad it has to end because it’s been a wonderful thing for children and their families,” said Ball, who said she prided herself on never giving a coat to a child she wouldn’t put on her own grandchild.

“We didn’t want kids to feel they were getting whatever was leftover but that they were special and deserved something nice.”

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Information from: The Grand Rapids Press, https://www.mlive.com/grand-rapids


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