Before even blowing out the candles, kids are choosing to share their birthday wishes with others by asking for donations for local charities in lieu of birthday presents.
Stephanie Peterson, Humane Society Calumet Area development director, said this philanthropic practice has been going on for awhile but seems to be increasing in recent years.
“We’re having a generation that’s very giving. It’s a great thing that gives you hope for the future,” Peterson said.
The children of St. Jude House in Crown Point have also been the recipients of this type of party. They have received toys, clothes and other goodies thanks to other kids’ birthday donations.
Mary McShane, director of development at St. Jude, said it’s inspiring to see parents teaching their children to give back and become involved with other people.
“They talk to them about what they’re doing," she said. "It’s very meaningful for the children to get an understanding. Even though they cannot give the gift in person to the children, they get to walk in the door and see where the gifts are going. It instills in them a sense of community and that people have to take care of each other.”
The process typically starts with a child sending a wish list or other special request with their birthday party invitations. On party day, they collect donations or gift cards and are then able to share them to their charity of choice.
“The kids are always so thrilled about what they were able to do,” Peterson said. “It’s really so selfless for little kids to think of that and not want anything for themselves.”
Aside from birthday parties, she said children come up with other creative ways to collect donations including lemonade stands and car washes.
Erin Novak said her sons 3-year-old R.J. and 4-year-old Tommy recently raised more than $500 in supplies and gift cards for the Humane Society Calumet Area. “I got the idea because my husband and I both have large families and when we have birthday parties for the kids we tend to get overrun with toys,” Novak, of Munster, said. “I wanted to teach the boys to give back, so I thought it would be nice to give to the animals since they love their doggie, Winnie, so much.
The Novaks live near the humane society and drive by daily, and the boys like to think about the animals enjoying their donations, Novak said. They plan to keep the tradition going at future birthday parties.
McShane, of St. Jude House, said the birthday party donations are great because while the organization typically receives many Christmastime donations, it runs low on items other times of the year. The donated toys and gifts are used for the children’s birthday parties and as rewards for things like doing well in school.
The public also helps by donating unused birthday party favors and decorations.
“We celebrate the children’s birthdays here,” McShane said. “We try to keep things as normal as possible. The mothers can choose what they want to give their children for birthdays and Christmas.”
The Cornett family, of Griffith, recently donated a pile of presents to St. Jude House.
Jonathan Cornett, who turned 7 in August, collected Target gift cards at his birthday party and then used them to buy toys to donate.
His parents, Shannon and Shawn Cornett of Griffith, realized how many presents he would be receiving and asked him if he’d be willing to donate them if he could have the one main toy on his list. He agreed and the request was put on the invitation, explaining that the family felt blessed and would like the opportunity to bless other children.
“In general, he was fine with giving them away,” his mom, Shannon, said. “I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s something we would do again in the future. It was a good experience for him.”
Other parents at the party were inspired by the idea and said they would probably do the same at their kids’ upcoming parties.