Birthday presents for kids in need

Six-year-old Mike, living in a shelter, thought only other people had birthdays. He had never celebrated one because his family could never afford it. Cheerful Givers was founded to make sure parents like Mike’s always have a gift to mark their child’s birthday.

While visiting a food shelf in 1994, Robin Maynard-Steele met distraught parents trying to find something special, like a box of cereal or a can of fruit, to give their children. Recognizing an unmet need, she founded Cheerful Givers to give parents living in poverty a helping hand. Since then, with one full-time staff member and volunteers nationwide, the organization has filled birthday bags for thousands of children. It will fill its 300,000th birthday gift bag on May 18.

Cheerful Givers raises funds but also encourages donations of pre-filled gift bags. Suggested contents are books, stuffed animals, games, crayons, stickers, toys and candy. The unique circumstances of these children are taken into account with every gift packed. Gifts like stuffed animals provide a much-needed constant as children move between shelters. A popular type of fundraiser is for groups — community organizations, corporations and sometimes children — to collect and bag gifts. Some children living in better conditions have turned their birthday parties into Cheerful Givers events, turning an occasion that is usually about receiving into one about giving.

The gift bags are distributed anonymously to children through food banks, in a way that allows parents to make the gifts to their children themselves. Through a partnership with Second Harvest Heartland, Cheerful Givers distributes to food banks in Minnesota and recently started pilot programs in Washington, Tennessee and North Dakota. The organization also encourages donating gift bags directly to food banks in one’s local community. Its work has been recognized in Minnesota with the Cheerful Giver’s Day (April 22, 2007 and April 20, 2008). Its goal for this year is to reach 50,000 children.

Cheerful Givers

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