Through the Birthday Dreams program at Arizona Helping Hands, 1,823 children in foster care have had birthdays made special in 2020.
More than 250 boys and girls each month have received gifts and party packages, thanks to our efforts.
The pandemic has affected every aspect of daily life. School is going virtual, social gatherings are eliminated and pizza party celebrations are out.
Birthday celebrations are different this year. Every child has faced adjustments and new challenges, but consider the life of a child in foster care. On top of the everyday life difficulties caused by the pandemic, 14,000 children in Arizona are dealing with disruption, relocation and confusion from being placed in foster care.
These are the kids we celebrate with our Birthday Dreams program. We make a special effort to let them know that they are important, their birthday is worthy of a celebration and that we love each and every one of them.
Grandma put in a request for Jayden, one of three grandchildren she is raising.
She told us he would like a science kit, and also enjoys board games and football.
Our volunteers shop through our warehouse bins to find the perfect gift to celebrate Jayden’s 9th birthday. Unfortunately, in these days of the COVID-19 pandemic, our bins are pretty empty, and it is challenging to find gifts to fill these requests.
With so many employees working from home these days, and with the economic challenges faced throughout society, it will be very difficult to continue to make birthdays special at the rate we receive requests.
I think of how sad it would be to not find the football for Jayden, or the craft set for Alicia.
It’s such a simple way to let children who have been abused and neglected know that we care about them, and we want to continue to find a way to spread the message that they deserve a happy birthday.
The frosting on the cake for our birthday program is a party package we call “Birthdays in a Bag.” Included in this set is a cake mix, frosting, party favors and candles that we provide along with the gift package, enabling the family to have a home-made party and sing Happy Birthday to a child who may never have celebrated a birthday.
Indeed, we have met youngsters who, even at age 8, did not know the words to the Happy Birthday song. Our supplies of Birthdays in a Bag also are depleted from the lack of support during the days of the virus.
This is such a simple way for a family to spread love to children in foster care.
You can go shopping at the dollar store, fill a few bags and drop them off at our warehouse.
I share the story often of a young family with two sons who show up at our warehouse every year on the boys’ birthdays. They have told their boys that birthdays are a day to receive, but also to give.
One-half of the money and gifts received is donated to Arizona Helping Hands to support our birthday program. Such a wonderful lesson to be taught --- to share your blessings with those who are not as blessed as you.
Think back to how important your birthday was to you as a child. I still remember the joy I felt on my special day, opening a few presents and digging into a birthday cake made just for me.
These are the pleasures that we make possible for boys and girls in foster care.
These are the joys that we share with Jayden and hundreds of children in foster care each and every month, and the work that we need community support to continue – especially in these days!
Our biggest needs today are gifts for children age 9 to 18 --- to make a child’s birthday wish come true visit our Amazon wish list.
Editor’s Note: Dan Shufelt is president and CEO of Arizona Helping Hands, the largest provider of basic needs to Arizona’s children in foster care.