FREMONT — In 2019, Andrea Gibson and her husband welcomed two nieces and a nephew into their home for what they believed to be a two-week stay.
Three years later, the girls are still with them and are now part of their family. The unexpected but welcome addition to their family, which also consists of Gibson’s three biological children, opened Gibson’s eyes to the realities of children living away from their parents.
She learned that these children sometimes come from homes where they have not had normal life experiences such as birthday parties, and that the foster parents and guardians who are now caring for them sometimes cannot afford celebrations. As she planned her nieces’ first birthday parties, she thought of the many foster and foster children whose birthdays would not be recognized or celebrated.
Lives have changed drastically
“I thought there must be a lot of children not celebrating birthdays whose lives have changed dramatically and about carers whose lives have changed dramatically. These are people who want to bring the kids home but can’t afford it,” Gibson said.
At the time, Gibson was a board member of Sandusky County Young Professionals, a group she co-founded in 2017. With the group’s help, she launched Giving Birthdays in January 2021. Giving Birthdays is an LLC non-profit that provides birthday boxes to young relatives. and host family who are between 1 and 21 years old. Each personalized “party in a box” is packaged in a tote or backpack and includes a boxed cake, candles, frosting, party plates, napkins, Happy Birthday banner, and selected party favors. each child’s wish list. Recently, local resident Selina Muniz of “Piñatas by Selina” started donating piñatas for each box.
Depending on their wishes, young people can receive toys, clothing, gift cards or other gifts. Older youth ready to leave the foster care system often receive convenience items such as towels, silverware and cleaning supplies.
“We wanted to make sure older kids have the things they’ll need when they start looking for a place to live,” Gibson said.
Working with Children’s Services
Gibson is working with Sandusky County Children’s Services Connect to Family Specialist Lisa Mullholand to distribute the birthday boxes to area youth.
“Lisa works with all the social workers. I give the boxes to Lisa, and she gives them to the social workers to give to the kids before their birthdays,” Gibson said. “It’s good for the children and a relief for the caregivers. Some of the young people are in group homes. We have to show them the most support. We need to let them know that we want to see them prosper.
Mullholand said giving birthday parties had a big impact on children and caregivers.
“I can’t tell you the happiness it brings. Just seeing the faces of children is wonderful. Andrea is the best. She makes sure the gifts will appeal to the children,” Mullholand said. “It takes some of the financial pressure off the family and the kids learn how important their birthdays are.”
Gibson provided 53 birthday boxes to young people in Sandusky County in 2021. This year, it expanded the program to Wood County by partnering with Wood County Children’s Services and has already provided 77 boxes. This means that 130 children, whose birthdays may not have been recognized, were celebrated with cakes, decorations and gifts.
But Gibson needs help to keep the parties going.
Need for sponsors
She is looking for individual and corporate sponsors who will finance birthday boxes for children. Donors wishing to sponsor individual youths receive a wish list that details the youth’s gender, age and gift preferences. The identity of the children is not shared.
If a donor doesn’t want to shop for the child, cash donations are welcome, and Gibson will shop for them. The cost to sponsor a birthday box is around $75 to $100.
“The community really stepped up and helped out, and we got a grant from the Sandusky County Community Foundation, but our funds are dwindling,” Gibson said.
Donations can be made by contacting Andrea Gibson at [email protected] or via Giving Birthdays Facebook, TikTok or Instagram accounts.
Contact correspondent Sheri Trusty at [email protected]