Local organization makes birthday wishes come true for kids in need
Balloons, candles, cake, decorations—they’re the ingredients to a perfect birthday party and for many kids, standard items that accompany the passage from one year to the next. But for families living in homeless shelters, planning a birthday party falls to the bottom of the priority list, as they deal with more pressing realities.
That’s where Birthday Wishes of Long Island comes in. The Hicksville-based organization throws birthday parties, complete with gifts, crafts, games and a homemade cake, for children living in homeless shelters across the island.
“For most kids, birthday parties are a rite of passage. I was always into making my kids feel special [on their birthdays], from the moment they wake up to when they fall asleep,” said Jamie Rapfogel, director of Birthday Wishes of Long Island. “I want to make sure these kids who don’t have everyday things could have that same feeling.”
Rapfogel, a Woodbury resident, got involved with Birthday Wishes nine years ago. At the time, the Massachusetts organization was looking to expand into Long Island, and Rapfogel headed the charge, forming a connection with a shelter in Hempstead. Today, Birthday Wishes of Long Island is involved with 62 shelters on the island, bringing smiles to children in Glen Cove, Hicksville, Jericho, Wantagh and beyond.
The nonprofit does two types of parties. One is their “birthday in a box,” where themed-party supplies, including party hats, balloons, streamers, paper plates and napkins, juice boxes and cake mix, are packed into a colorfully wrapped box and delivered to a shelter on a child’s birthday. The other option is on-site parties at a shelter, where all the children who have a birthday that month enjoy a celebration, complete with a homemade cake, decorations, crafts, games and a goody bag for all the attendees. Birthday Wishes of Long Island does about 20 of these parties each month.
“So many of these kids have never seen their name on a cake or have ever gotten a goody bag,” Rapfogel said. “They, as well as their parents, always appreciate everything we give them.”
For Rapfogel, seeing the joy a simple birthday party can bring to a child is the most rewarding part of her involvement with Birthday Wishes.
“They’re so excited that people care enough to spend time with them,” said Rapfogel, noting that when they pull up to a shelter, children are often standing at the door, excitedly waiting for them. “Their enthusiasm and how happy you can make them and make their lives normal is super special.”
As the nonprofit is largely volunteer-driven, they depend on donations from generous supporters, who provide gifts and financial support. But volunteers also play a hands-on role in the organization, helping to wrap and deliver presents, bake cakes, stuff goody bags and more.
“It’s a huge team effort,” Rapfogel said. “Long Islanders are amazingly helpful. We can put something on the Facebook page and there it is the next day.”
Among the team of volunteers lending their support is Rapfogel’s family, including her three children, husband and mom. Age isn’t a factor when it comes to getting involved with the organization, Rapfogel said, a point that proves itself with their current fundraising initiative, Kids Helping Kids.
Kids Helping Kids challenges youngsters to make up their own fundraiser, such as a lemonade stand, bake sale, car wash or any other campaign, to raise money for Birthday Wishes of Long Island. Kids who raise money will also be treated to an appreciation party with raffles and prizes on July 27.
“Every kid can relate to their birthday and this inspires kids to help other kids. The fundraiser shows that kids have the power to make a difference,” said Rapfogel. “It’s a generational experience. Everyone can work together to make the lives of [others] better.”
Find out more about Birthday Wishes of Long Island and the Kids Helping Kids campaign at www.longisland.birthdaywishes.org or by emailing Rapfogel at Jamie@birthdaywishes.org.