A million years ago (give or take a few… It’s been a jam-packed week and my stay-at-home mom days feel REALLY far away), my son and I were part of a terrific group called MOMS Club. We had playgroups, field trips, park days, holiday parties, fundraisers, and service projects. Finding this group was a godsend for me and for J. Now, in middle school, he is still close friends with some of the MOMS Club kids.
I loved our service projects. We sponsored a room at a local women’s shelter, providing it with bedding, window coverings, and an occasional fresh coat of paint. We collected school supplies for a different school in our community each fall. We adopted a family in need during the holidays. One mom was a leader of her daughters’ scout troop, and she headed up a service project she had learned about from the troop’s work with the food shelf.
The staff at our local food shelf explained the heart rending situation that they see all the time; families barely scraping by cannot afford to do anything special for their kids’ birthdays. As a parent, this broke my heart. Can you imagine staring at the calendar hoping you’ll have enough just to feed your kid on his birthday and wishing desperately that you had a way to make the day special? There is something we can do. A glimmer of hope and caring in a seriously sad situation. Birthday Bags – gift bags filled with the basic items that make up a birthday celebration.
We had a lot of fun with this project. We bought plain, solid colored gift bags at the dollar store and let our kids decorate them with crayons and stickers. They were very festive! We designated some to be for boys, some for girls, and some gender neutral. Not having any little girls in my life (I now have nieces – I didn’t then), I ate up the chance to pick out princess plates and pink napkins. We delivered about a dozen of these bags to the local food bank, and they gave us a tour of their facility. That was eye opening for us and our kids. A lot of the tidbits you see on this blog are things I learned on that tour!
So here’s the list of what to put into a Birthday Bag. I made a printable checklist, too. Feel free to print, post, and share the printable (.jpg and .pdf on the bottom of the page):
- A bag: Buy birthday themed gift bags at the dollar store, use paper grocery bags, or do what we did and get the kids participating in the project by decorating solid colored paper bags.
- A cake mix: If you watch the sales, you can usually get cake mixes for $1.00-$1.50 each.
- Frosting: Get frostings that go with the cakes you bought, and remember that certain flavors are more kid-friendly than others. German chocolate, for example, is delicious with all the coconut and nuts, but it’s not really a kid flavor. We stuck with the basics, chocolate cake with chocolate frosting and white cake with white or confetti frosting.
- Candles: Dollar Tree to the rescue! When we last did this project, the dollar store was selling boxes of birthday candles at three boxes for $1.00. That’s 33 cents a box, and they were all varieties of rainbow colors.
- Paper plates and napkins: Back to the dollar store! It really made this project affordable for us. They have a ton of cute birthday plates and decorations that will only set you back $1.00 per item, and they have some really fun designs.
- A décor item (optional): A package of streamers that match the plates, a “Happy Birthday” banner, or some other fun décor item makes it feel like a celebration. Have fun with this, and choose something to make the day special! One word of caution: Latex balloons are probably not a great idea. Lots of people are sensitive/allergic to latex, and they pose a choking hazard for young kids and pets. If you send balloons, include that info on the note attached to the bag so it goes to a family that can use them.
- A blank birthday card: Hallmark has a line of basic cards that start at 99 cents. Sometimes the drug store chains or grocery stores offer a coupon for an additional amount off the purchase of a couple cards. Last time I used that deal I got three 99 cent cards and they gave me a dollar off, so three cards for $2.00. The dollar store might have some good deals, too. Don’t write on the card; just include the blank card and its envelope in the birthday bag. Mom and Dad can write on it and they can have credit for throwing the birthday celebration. The kids don’t need to know that their parents had help from the food bank and its donors to make this happen. If you want to include your well wishes, the bag is a good place for a quick, anonymous note like, “Happy Birthday! Hope you have an awesome day!”
- A gift item: This is the point where you really decide how much you want to spend on this project. Some groups send along a $5-10 gift card to a mass retailer like Target or Wal-Mart. Some send books. Others send along a toy or two from the dollar store. This is really up to the budget you set for the project. We did dollar store party favors in our bags – another celebration item instead of a gift. Next time I think I’ll send books or coloring books and crayons, and some gift cards for older kids.
Clip a note to the outside of your bag that indicates if the package is for a boy, girl, or either, as well as what age its best suited for. Include the info about balloons if you’re including them, and what the gift item is. Make it simple for the food shelf staff and volunteers to grab a birthday bag that will be most useful and meaningful for the family. I made a printable for this as well (link on the bottom of the page); they print four to a page. When you’re ready to deliver your bags, call ahead (or take them along with your next food donation drop off). You want to stop by to make your drop off when it’s most convenient for the food shelf staff and volunteers.
Birthday bags are a popular service project for families and groups, so there are a TON of ideas and tips on Pinterest. Click HERE to go to Food Shelf Friday’s Pinterest page where I have a board for birthday bag ideas as well as a bunch of inspiration, links to FSF blog posts, and ideas for additional service projects. If you have other ideas or tips from your experience building Birthday Bags, add them in the comments.
Birthday Bag Checklist (link to .pdf – the image above is .jpg)