Every child deserves a special birthday.
That’s the idea behind a new Maryland nonprofit started by Lori Baylin of Reisterstown and Kim Steller of Owings Mills. The two, who attended McDonogh School and the University of Wisconsin together, were reacquainted when their daughters, now 7, were classmates at the Rosenbloom Owings Mills JCC Early Childhood Education Center.
“Kim approached me at a party because she knew I had done a lot of work in the community and told me she was interested in volunteering,” recalled Baylin, 39. “My sister created The Birthday Box in New Jersey, and we talked about starting a branch here in Maryland.”
The Birthday Box provides a birthday-in-a-box for a child whose family lacks the resources to provide a celebration. It provides party supplies, including paper goods, utensils, a personalized birthday cake and a new toy for the birthday girl or boy. It is an ongoing program entirely funded by donations from individuals and businesses.
When she learned about The Birthday Box, Steller, 37 was very enthusiastic. Within months, she and Baylin had registered and received 501(c)(3) status. After that, Steller and Baylin began reaching out to local organizations to let them know about the service they were providing. Sarah’s Hope, a program for homeless women and families located at Hannah More Shelter in Reisterstown, was the first organization to take advantage of The Birthday Box.
“They [shelter staff members] usually have birthday parties once a month to celebrate all the kids at the shelter who were born in that month. So, none of the kids have their own special day. When they heard about our idea, they loved it,” said Steller.
Parties are scheduled through an online calendar, where an organizational liaison or parent fills in information such as the party date, gender and age of the birthday child so that Baylin and Steller can prepare the party and purchase an appropriate gift. Information provided to The Birthday Box is anonymous so no one needs to know a family is unable to afford a celebration for its child. Families have the option of letting their child know that the party has been donated by The Birthday Box or can present the party without sharing that information.
“The first two birthdays we did were for siblings. The mom hadn’t received [an anticipated] check [that month], and being able to give her children a party empowered her to feel good about herself and made her kids feel good about themselves, too,” said Baylin, who has a social work background and has been on the boards of several nonprofits. “This was a natural fit. And it’s been wonderful to see the response from the community and local businesses.”
Recently, The Birthday Box also provided parties for children at INNterim Housing Corporation in Pikesville.
Steller said a big motivator for her was setting a good example for her children.
“It’s easy to talk to kids about giving back and helping the needy, but doing it is something different. When they actually see it and do it, it really sinks in. Sometimes I have gifts in the car, and in the beginning my son would ask, ‘Are those for me?’ I’d say, ‘No, they’re for The Birthday Box.’ Now he gets it. He understands there are children less fortunate than him,” Steller said.
Both women said they involve their children in Birthday Box activities.
“They help to gather materials and deliver boxes,” said Baylin.
In fact, both Baylin and Steller’s daughters will be celebrating birthdays soon. Each will be donating one gift to The Birthday Box.
Interested in donating to The Birthday Box? In addition to cash contributions, Baylin and Steller are grateful to receive donations of new toys, paper plates, cups, napkins, forks, giftwrap, tape, candles and gift cards for use at local bakeries. Donations can also be made in honor of a birthday or other special occasion. All donations can be made online at thebirthdaybox.org.
On Thursday, Aug. 1 from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m., The Birthday Box will hold a fundraiser at California Pizza Kitchen, 118 Shawan Road, Hunt Valley. Twenty percent of all of that day’s sales will be donated to The Birthday Box.
For more information, and to receive a digital or hard copy flyer about the event, visit thebirthdaybox.org.
Simone Ellin is JT senior features reporter firstname.lastname@example.org