Birthdays should be a day of celebration and fun. For a single mom on a tight budget, however, the cost of a birthday party can feel anything but celebratory.
But this year, Fellowship moms (and their kids) are getting a little help from a compassionate teenager. Sonika Menon, 14, is donating Birthday Boxes for the children who are a part of Fellowship Housing.
Sonika, with the help of her mom Anna, recently created the Birthday Giving Program, a non-profit organization (complete with 501-3c status). Her organization provides Birthday Boxes to children who are living in shelters or are in housing programs like Fellowship. The organization’s stated goal: “to provide birthday parties to the children affected by poverty, addiction, abuse, and violence.”
She’s reached out to homeless shelters and other organizations, and also to Fellowship, offering to provide birthday parties by donating a “birthday box” that includes everything needed to throw a small party and celebrate a child’s birthday.
Sonika says she got the idea when she was celebrating her own birthday. “It just came to mind,” she said. “What do people do if they can’t afford to do something for their child’s birthday? I looked into it, there are not many organizations out there that help with birthdays.”
Her question was not just a passing thought. Sonika decided to do something about it, and with the help of her mom (who is a CPA), created an organization to help children celebrate birthdays. She solicits donations (for example, a church in Naperville donated paper plates) and assembles the boxes. The average cost is just $10, because of donations and bulk purchases. But the impact far outweighs the cost.
“A birthday party gives children the confidence, respect, and love they need to commemorate their existence in the world,” Sonika wrote in her program outline (the document she created to set up the organization).
“We give them a cake, either store bought or we make it,” she said. “There’s also candles, bags of Crunch & Munch, juice boxes, snacks, plates, balloons, birthday hats. We got donations of chip bags (small bags of potato chips) so we put those in. Also, little toys like maybe toy cars or Shopkins or other small things.”
Each box also includes one larger gift, customized for the child. A recent box included a lacrosse stick for the birthday child, because the mom had mentioned that the child liked lacrosse. Older children might receive movie tickets, or gift cards for restaurants. “For older girls, we might give them a gift certificate for a nail salon or something like that,” Sonika said.
Sonika oversees every detail, including things other might not think of. “We ask about allergies,” she says, “to make sure we are not giving them anything they might be allergic to.” Sonika is allergic to tree nuts, so “I care about things like that.”
Heather Corins, Program Director for Fellowship, said she’s excited about this new partnership. The Birthday Giving Program has committed to providing birthday boxes for all 31 children in Fellowship Housing.
Corins said that to protect confidentiality, the boxes are delivered to the Fellowship office, and each child’s Family Advocate delivers the box.
Sonika, who lives in Naperville, runs her organization with a few volunteers, including her brother and cousins. But she has plans to grow. She will attend Neuqua Valley High School in the fall, and plans to start a club at the high school to continue her charity work.
She is always looking for financial donations, or for donations of items for the boxes such as paper goods, toys or snacks. If you’d like to support her work, contact Heather at the Fellowship office for details. (email@example.com or 847-882-2511).