Congratulations to Celebrate Birthdays, a nonprofit based in Tampa, for being applauded by Avalon Park Wesley Chapel.
Celebrate Birthdays’ mission is to ensure that every foster child and all children, ages 1 through 18, regardless of personal or financial circumstances, has the opportunity to celebrate their birthday. The nonprofit services Pasco, Hillsborough and Pinellas counties.
Co-founders Belinda Leto and Celina Saunders are full-time nurses by trade who met 18 years ago. They discovered in 2017 a need to help children celebrate their birthdays when they delivered Christmas presents to children of incarcerated individuals.
A recipient’s grandmother asked Leto and Saunders if they knew anyone who could help her celebrate her grandson’s birthday, as she did not even have the means for a cake.
Heartbroken and eager to help, Leto and Saunders immediately started calling local places and couldn’t find any reliable resources.
“In our area there’s over 6,000 children in foster care and over half of them have never celebrated a birthday,” says Leto. “We realized we had plenty of room right here in our own backyard to make an impact.”
Leto and Saunders officially founded Celebrate Birthdays in 2019.
“We didn’t go into this intending that it was going to be a nonprofit, but we just realized a need that was out there in our community and we wanted to make sure that we could help fill that void,” says Leto.
Due to the COVID pandemic, Celebrate Birthdays now hosts a limited number of in-person parties a month, as well as offers a ‘Birthday in a Box,’ which it created out of necessity.
“It’s a 10×10 box filled with 16 different items that includes everything a child would need to celebrate their birthday, wherever they’re at,” says Leto.
Leto and her team try to cater the boxes to what that particular child likes, and has about 19 different themes to choose from such as sports, movies, etc.
Items include streamers, candles, cake mix, etc. The nonprofit also sends a gift valued at $25 and a free book to help promote literacy.
Celebrate Birthdays delivers up to 100 boxes a month, and each box costs about $50.
“When you see the joy on a child’s face when somebody remembers them on their special day, I almost feel like this should be a basic necessity,” says Leto. She hopes these small moments will give them long-lasting memories.
Celebrate Birthdays also launched a program in August called Classroom Birthday Bins, for title one and low income schools, that include items like stickers, a birthday crown, notebooks, pencil, wristband, and more.
“We want to make sure that the child is celebrated…and it helps the teachers who don’t have a lot of resources,” says Leto.
Leto says there are numerous ways to volunteer, whether it’s packing birthday boxes, hosting a gift drive, or donating monetarily.
Stay up to date with Celebrate Birthdays at CelebrateBirthdays.org or follow them on Facebook (@celebrateBirthdays19) or Instagram (@celebratebirthdays). Donations can be dropped off at 611 N. New Jersey Ave., Tampa, FL 33609.
Published September 22, 2021