When my daughter turned 7, we reminded her how lucky she was. We have always tried to instill a sense of charity in her and her brothers, despite the fact that many people feel the concept is lost on younger children. Our children have piggy banks set aside for charity. We make special trips to the grocery store specifically for the Food Bank. And, we’ve made numerous other hands-on donations as a family.
But that 7th birthday seemed particularly fortunate, so we simply said, “You know, there are so many children that don’t even get a cake let alone one single present.” She looked at us and said, “Where are those children, because we should find them and throw them a party.” Charity lost on children? I’ll never believe that!
So, with a determined daughter and a proud mama on her side, we set out to throw some birthday parties. We called the county Department of Health and Human Services and they put us in touch with a long-term transitional home that provides housing and work training for homeless moms with children. Perfect. Then, we called and asked if anyone was currently throwing parties for them, and they said, “No.” That is how “Birthday Buddies,” a name coined by my daughter, was born.
Throwing birthday parties at shelters is not necessarily a new idea. But, what works for one shelter may not work for another. So, we worked closely with the shelter’s social workers to develop the program focusing on a “basic” party for each child. “Basic” means that there are no extravagances, no magicians, no performers, no clowns, and no expensive gifts. We provide paper party goods, 3 gifts worth no more than $20 each, a cake and balloons. Also, we leave the party goods and gifts with the mom so that she can “throw” her own child’s party.
In the beginning, my daughter and two sons helped to plan every party. They chose the theme, and helped select and wrap the gifts. About six months into the program, we sent a press release to the local newspaper. We got flooded with calls from Girl Scout troops, families, individuals, schools, and more – all looking to sponsor birthdays. Some national coverage also resulted in folks across the country starting up their own Birthday Buddies chapters in their areas.
So, what can you do in your area? Well, if you have the time, you can make some phone calls, find a local shelter, and start your own Birthday Buddies program. Or, the next time you or your children celebrate a birthday, why not nix gifts for yourselves and ask party guests to bring gifts for needy kids instead? You can also try calling the local hospital or low-income clinic to find out if a young patient will be having a birthday soon – perhaps you can sponsor a party for that child.
A birthday party seems like a necessity to most of us – a normal part of growing up. But there are children out there who have never once had a birthday party. They have never opened a gift to celebrate themselves. In the words of my daughter, “Let’s find them, and throw them a party!”
Buzz For Your Biz