Shannon Von Allman started Birthday Blessings in West Plains, Mo. in 2013 with one simple goal in mind: give every child the same opportunity to have a birthday party, no matter what their situation may be.
Birthday Blessings is a charitable organization that throws birthday parties for foster children.
Von Allman noticed that when Christmas time came around, there was ample opportunity to sponsor a foster child, but there was nothing set up for birthdays.
“When I was growing up, I had a friend in high school, my best friend, that was in foster care. And I remember one year, it didn’t even occur to me to call her on her birthday. I remember talking to her afterwards and she said that no one even wished her a happy birthday. That sort of always stuck with me,” Von Allman said.
So Von Allman took action and set the program up, to give children like her childhood best friend a chance to have a memorable special day.
“We started in the 37th Circuit down in Howell County and it has grown to include seven counties down there. There’s the 37th Circuit and the 44th Circuit. I guess it was about two years ago that I had the opportunity, through a friend, to start serving kids in the 10th Circuit: Marion County, Hannibal,” Von Allman said.
As soon as they began spreading throughout Marion County, people in the neighboring Shelby County caught wind of the organization and they expanded west.
“This past year we expanded to be able to include Shelby and Macon Counties, in the 41st Circuit. And we picked up the other two counties in the 10th Circuit so we’ve Marion and Monroe. We are sort of at the point where we feel like we can take on Pike and Lincoln Counties,” Von Allman said.
She said that at first she thought it might be a little family type project, but that it has kind of taken off to a degree that maybe wasn’t expected, but that is greatly appreciated.
She said that in the first month of Birthday Blessings’ existence, they served four children. Now, going on seven years, Von Allman said that she thinks that this year her charity will give out around 600 birthday parties across 14 counties. That’s, on average, 50 parties per month.
As far as what the birthday parties consist of, Von Allman said that they try to provide not only the fun element of a birthday party for the child, but also fill any needs the child may have.
Every single party is tailored to the needs and specifications of the child. Birthday Blessings receives a wish list that caseworkers help the children come up with and gifts are selected based on what is on those lists.
“If they need a duffle bag or a backpack, we put the items in the bag. We find that a lot of kids, when they come into care, they have nothing or very few possessions. If they have very few possessions, sometimes they are stuck using a garbage bag, which we feel sends a negative message to the children. So if they need those things, we provide them,” Von Allman said.
And of course, there is cake.
“Typically, unless they are in a residential facility, they get supplies to make a birthday cake: cake mix, frosting, candles. Then we provide basic party supplies like cups, plates and napkins. For little kids, it is usually like Disney or Star Wars or something and for the older kids, it’s usually stuff that just says Happy Birthday,” Von Allman said. They also give the child a birthday card, a treat bag and between $40-$50 worth of gifts, $40 for the younger and $50 for the older, as things for older children cost more.
“We find that a lot of the children need things like clothing, school supplies. We give out a lot of items like stuffed animals or blankets. Most of our kids carry some type of emotional trauma with them and so we try to meet needs, physical needs, even though it’s sort of emotionally based ministry,” Von Allman said.
Something as simple as a birthday party is something that most children might take for granted. But some children don’t grow up with people organizing and providing them with things that others might deem normal. And this is where Birthday Blessings steps in.
“I think, for these kids, it makes a world of difference. We actually, a month or so ago, were able to do a party for a kid, she was an older teen. We got pizza from Domino’s and she walked in and just started crying. These kids are used to feeling like they don’t matter, that they’re just part of the background. And what they really want is to just be like all of their peers,” Von Allman said. “They want to be noticed, they want to be accepted. They want to be just like everybody else.”
With the birthday bags, the kids can go to school and tell their friends and schoolmates about their party and show off their new things.
There are lots of things to do with Birthday Blessings and lots of ways to get involved.
“There’s a variety of ways people can help, whether it’s collecting donations or volunteering. If they’re interested in learning more about the foster system or becoming a foster parent or helping with the ministry, they are welcome to contact us. If it is something that they want to do to help us, that’s fantastic. If they have some other capacity that they want to help, we can put them in touch with the right people,” Von Allman said.
Birthday Blessings is interested in hearing from anyone willing to volunteer or learn more about their organization. To learn more and about how to get involved with the organization, visit their website at www.birthday-blessings.org.